Capitals looking for ‘effort’ vs. Devils

Back-to-back presents challenge for winless Washington

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After their performance in a humiliating loss described by Troy Brouwer as “pathetic” and several others as “embarrassing,” the Washington Capitals are like any golfer who shanked a drive or any kicker who doinked it off the upright.

They just want to play again. Put the unmitigated disaster that was Thursday night against the Montreal Canadiens behind them as quickly as possible.

“I want to get back out there right now and play again,” defenseman Karl Alzner said 20 minutes after the torture was over.

Fortunately for the Caps’ collective psyche, they get to play Friday night at the New Jersey Devils. But so much is wrong that the quick turnaround leaves no time to correct mistakes and regain some sort of composure.

But coach Adam Oates noted that “some of our mistakes are pure effort.” That must change quickly.

“We’ve got to find some effort. We’ve got to find some enthusiasm,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “We’ve got to go into a very tough building to win in and find some energy and find a way to win.”

This is the first of eight back-to-backs during the 48-game season. The Caps had an optional morning skate Friday morning in Newark, given that they are in the midst of a stretch of seven games in 11 days.

Oates said there’s no “perfect formula” for balancing conditioning and fatigue. It’s a delicate balancing act, especially given that Washington is the last remaining team in the NHL without a point.

Going into New Jersey and facing the defending Eastern Conference champions is a daunting challenge.

“Maybe that’s what we need: A team that everybody knows is really good and we really have to be on point to stand a chance against them,” Alzner said. “Hopefully that’s really going to help us. Yeah, it’s a team that we’re going to play similar styles, so we’ve got to show them at least that we can do it and show ourselves that we can do it.”

Through three games, the Caps have been outscored 14-6. They’ve led for just 2:32 and trailed for 122:45. The penalty kill is 11-for-18 and the power play is 2-for-12. Goaltenders Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth have combined for an .853 save percentage.

In other words, things aren’t great. But players disagreed with the notion that playing right away is a hindrance to improvement.

“I think we know what we have to do. We’ve got to do it,” left wing Wojtek Wolski said. “I think once everyone’s on the same page we’re definitely going to be strong and win games.”

Winning one game would be a start.

“I think we just need to get one win under our belt and get rolling,” right wing Joey Crabb said. “It’s just like a goal; you get one and you get more. It’s the same with wins; you get one win and I think we’ll start rolling.”

Whether it’s an advantage to get back onto the ice quickly remains to be seen.

“I guess we’ll find out,” Brouwer said. “But you don’t want to forget games like [Thursday night] because you want to take something from it, and there’s not a whole lot of good you can take from it, so I guess all you can do is just see how bad your effort was and go forward and try and improve on that the next day. …

“[The Devils are] a good hockey team and we’ve got to find a way to get some enthusiasm, get some passion in our game right now.”

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