Capitals insist offense will come after ‘unacceptable’ shutouts

Washington blanked twice in row at home

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Some players shake off the notion of frustration. Sure, the Washington Capitals haven’t scored in nearly a week, but captain Alex Ovechkin and coach Dale Hunter have stressed the process of doing the right things.

“We have chances. It’s [the] more important thing,” Ovechkin said.

But chances and feeling good about offensive play are simply not good enough this time of year, and the Capitals go into Tuesday night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center having been shut out twice in a row. That’s the first time for this team since 2006-07 and the first time at home since March 2001.

“It’s just a matter of us scoring goals,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “Two games in a row, it’s unacceptable.”

Unacceptable given not only the firepower this team was supposed to have but what’s at stake. Five points back of the Southeast-leading Florida Panthers, Washington is closer to the 13th spot in the Eastern Conference than first place in the division.

But the number that’s most stunning is 120, as in 120 minutes without a goal since Ovechkin beat the New York Islanders in overtime Feb. 28. During the first three games of this five-game homestand, the Caps scored three goals in a span of 5:04 but nothing in the other 176:31.

Jeff Halpern said he and his teammates aren’t focused on the scoring woes.

“I don’t think we’re thinking about that at all. We’re just kind of approaching the games trying to win the games [knowing] how important they are,” the veteran forward said. “Obviously, you have to score, but I don’t think that’s at the forefront. I think just winning games is really the only thing guys are thinking about right now.”

It’s a lot easier to win when goals are coming, of course. Hunter and his players roundly agreed that Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Philadelphia featured some strong play and good chances, but Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was up to the challenge.

“If you get those kind of efforts consistently, then goals usually take care of themselves,” Halpern said. “If you get good chances, you’re going to score. If you’re not getting the chances and you’re giving up stuff and you’re not spending time around the net, then that’s when there’s reason for concern.”

But there’s concern already, because as many players pointed out, this is not the time of the season to talk up “moral victories.” It’s about results, and the next step was a Monday practice geared toward doing more of the little things around the net.

It was right in Hunter’s teaching wheelhouse as he tried to re-instill some fundamentals for the Capitals in the offensive zone.

“We’re always stopping. ‘D’ jumping up in the play. Creating the odd-man rushes more,” the coach said. “And just get more traffic in front. Most of the goals are scored around the blue paint, so if you want to score, you better be around there.”

Hendricks and veteran right wing Mike Knuble pointed out that Bryzgalov allowed several rebounds, but Washington couldn’t capitalize. Some of that has to do with not driving to the net.

Hunter said there’s “definitely a lot more work” involved when stopping forward momentum at the crease, but it’s that kind of commitment to offense that should lead to more scoring.

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