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Team is in free fall and searching for answers
TORONTO — Another loss. Another humiliation. A 7-1 defeat at the hands of the undermanned Toronto Maple Leafs. A third straight loss on the road trip. The seventh loss in regulation in the last 11 games. But this one was different because the Washington Capitals had absolutely nothing Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.
“The other games, I think it was one or two areas that we got exposed, that cost us. Tonight it was just [a butt]-kicking every which way,” veteran right wing Mike Knuble said. “Even strength, short-handed, from the goalies to the D to the forwards, four-on-five, five-on-four — [a butt]-kicking.”
It was that and more. It was easily the ugliest loss in a stretch full of them — a stretch that has turned a team that started 7-0-0 into one desperately searching for answers.
Saturday night, the spotlight was on for “Hockey Night in Canada,” and the opportunity was there to change everything against an injury-plagued, struggling Maple Leafs group.
“It’s not the team with the best players that always wins, it’s the team that plays best together,” forward Brooks Laich said. “At times tonight we were disconnected; we were on an island a little bit.”
There was plenty of blame to go around in this shellacking by the Maple Leafs. The power play went 0-for-5, the penalty kill gave up three goals, and five-on-five the Caps had no sustained offense and at times appeared to stop skating.
During this losing streak, which included a shootout defeat before leaving on the road swing, everything devolved for the Caps.
“It went from losing in a shootout, to controlling the game until the last 30 seconds, to losing fairly bad, to getting smoked,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It feels like the end of the world, but it’s not the end of the world.”
General manager George McPhee declined to comment when asked about giving Boudreau a vote of confidence.
It feels like the end of the world because of the preseason expectations and the strong beginning to the season. But while other losses could include slivers of hope, this one was about as ugly as one can get. It even included David Steckel scoring on a breakaway in the final minute.
“Every statistical category — it wasn’t even barely 51 percent to 49 — it was substantial difference in every which way on the ice,” Knuble said. “You’ve got to give them credit for coming out and really kicking the crap out of us.”
Credit the Maple Leafs, and guys like goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who had undoubtedly his best game of the season. But this wasn’t an isolated incident for the Caps.
Dennis Wideman said this kind of play even predated this slump.
“We’ve struggled probably the last  games now, we haven’t been playing well. Even when we were winning those seven games, there were a lot of games there we got outplayed and our goalies stood on their heads and got us those wins,” Wideman said. “It’s been going on for awhile. If we don’t correct it soon, we’re going to find ourselves looking up.”
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