VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Even the day after the Capitals' seven-game, season-opening winning streak ended, there were smiles and plenty of positivity around a first-place team that knew it just ran into some tough breaks and a hot goaltender.
But when Washington's road trip came to an end with Saturday's loss to the Vancouver Canucks, there was a very different vibe - that perhaps winning so much masked some mistakes.
"You go off and you win seven in a row or whatever, and maybe things get swept under the rug a little bit because you're kind of rolling," right wing Mike Knuble said after the 7-4 defeat. "It's always a good reality check at the beginning of the year that you've got to be on every night."
In a 2-1 loss to Edmonton on Thursday, the Capitals criticized themselves for taking a rash of penalties but generally came away happy with their performance. Coach Bruce Boudreau pointed out that the final three games of the winning streak might have been the best three, signaling possibly that his team wasn't going to let one loss turn into two.
But at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, it got ugly with defensive breakdowns, a struggling penalty kill and more trips to the penalty box.
"We scored four but we were just bad defensively, gave them a lot of chances in the slot, didn't block a whole lot of shots, turned the puck over," defenseman Dennis Wideman said. "We just weren't sharp on our own end."
Sharpness wasn't always evident during the streak, either, but goaltending often kept Washington in games, whether it was Michal Neuvirth in the opener or Tomas Vokoun for several games after a rough start. Against the Canucks, forward Matt Hendricks said, the Caps "left our goalie out to dry" too often. Unstable play in front of Vokoun in the first then bled into the same in front of Neuvirth in the third, which ultimately sealed the first losing streak of the season.
"You win as a team and lose as a team, and we were all guilty [Saturday] of some guys in the first, some guys in the third," said Vokoun, who was pulled after the first period after allowing three goals on 17 shots. "It's not fun to lose like that. Sometimes it's part of the process."
That's what the Capitals can talk about and hope for moving forward - that giving up seven goals in the fashion they did will serve as a wake-up call about defensive-zone coverage, discipline in several areas and turnovers.
Washington still is 7-2-0, and Boudreau simply noted that "it's one out of 82 and we didn't play well." But his players were a little harsher about the need to fix problems before they lead to more losses.
"We just go back to the drawing board, like they say, and be focused and ready and ready to get back to work," Hendricks said. "Because there's definitely some things in our game that need to get better."
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