Mike Knuble chewed his gum and mulled over the question for a good five seconds. There was no rapid-fire answer to explain the frustration the Capitals felt after a 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night, especially after a team-wide commitment to defense over the past 11 months.
The veteran leader who wears an "A" on his chest had a lot to say about that lack of defensive urgency that seems to be pervading the Caps right now.
"It's like embarrassing when you're on the ice and guys are beating you," Knuble said. "The other night, get beat one on four, just playing like a bunch of losers. You're going to lose if you play like that — you're going to lose every night in the league. Let alone talking about playoffs and all that. You'll lose every night in the league and I think we all went through that last year."
Asked about the need to develop defensive urgency now before it gets too late, Knuble continued the onslaught of criticism.
"Maybe through the first five games I felt top to bottom it was a better commitment. Of late, I don't know if we're all committed," he said. "It's sad to say and we all look bad because of the result — because we don't all commit. We look great when we're all committing; we look all like a bunch of clowns when we don't. A very average team when we're not all committed."
Commitment was the word used last season after a defensive focus spearheaded a run to the top of the Eastern Conference.
It seems like the Caps are ready to undergo something, even if it's not a transformation like a year ago. But after a 7-0-0 start to the season, they've dropped four of six, and coach Bruce Boudreau won't let that hot stretch be an excuse for losing.
"If it's a comfort thing, the comfort will change tomorrow," he said.
The Caps looked more than uncomfortable Tuesday night at Verizon Center. Disjointed play as a result of ill-timed penalties, poor defensive zone coverage, turnovers and other blunders turned a close game into a laugher.
More than anything else, Boudreau and players cited losing battles as the reason for defeat.
"The one-on-one compete is something that you should be taking a lot of pride in," Boudreau said. "You can look at when we were winning the first seven games that we were winning all these battles. We've lost four out of six and for three of them, it's because you're losing the battles."
And losing the games. Because of that, change is coming. The change starts in practice, and the Caps know it must translate to games to snap out of this funk.
"I think our work ethic needs to be better. I think our commitment to the details wasn't very good tonight," forward Matt Hendricks said. "We had spurts of it but for the most part it wasn't very good. And the onus is on us as a group to be better."
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