- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 7, 2009

Earlier this week, Bruce Boudreau said his team’s lackluster play of late was not particularly unusual.

“I don’t know of a team outside of San Jose this year that hasn’t gone through a little bit of a funk,” the Washington Capitals coach said.

That was before the team passed the trade deadline with nothing to show for it.

That was before his team lost its third straight game at home - its first three-game home losing streak since Boudreau took over last season.

That was before Alex Ovechkin sat out Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Toronto after taking a shot to his right foot in Wednesday’s practice.

It’s now more than a little funk. This is a George Clinton-like funk - at least for a team that has skated through the season with no funk at all.

And it comes at the worst possible time: The conference-leading Bruins have made some funk of their own - they’ve dropped nine of their past 12 games - and the Caps haven’t taken advantage.

There’s no good time for a three-game losing streak. But this one arrived at the same time as the trade deadline, when the Caps’ decision to stand pat created a perception that the club had lost ground to its rivals by failing to add some key parts.

The combination of the skid and that perception only adds to a funk-like feeling that suddenly surrounded this team. That perhaps is an overreaction, given that the Capitals have been one of the best teams in the NHL for most of the season and have far too much talent to be in a funk for long.

Still, the slight sense of panic is not just from the outside looking in. Boudreau acknowledged that his team is playing with an unhealthy desperation that probably is making things worse.

“We’re in that situation right now where guys are holding their sticks really tight and not doing things that are natural for them,” Boudreau said Thursday night. “Consequently, we’re not scoring. Guys are pressing pretty hard at this stage right now. We’ve just got to get them to play their game that won 40 games already.”

Yes. Everyone suddenly has forgotten that team.

It’s Boudreau’s job now to bring that team back to life and bury the funk. Maybe that should be the victory cry for Sunday’s home game against Pittsburgh - not unleash the fury, but bury the funk.

Boudreau has had the magic touch since he took over this team after Glen Hanlon was fired. He has led the Caps to a 77-38-12 record in the regular season, with few periods of funk like this one.

Of course, part of that magic is Ovechkin, whose presence in the lineup should dictate that no funk lasts long. He wasn’t in the lineup Thursday night, though.

Ovechkin had to be helped off the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Wednesday, and he smashed a few sticks in anger along the way.

But when he met with reporters in the locker room later, he didn’t appear to limp and tried to show that there was nothing to worry about. He sat against the Maple Leafs - just the fourth time he has missed a game in four years in the league, and two of those games came earlier this year when he went to Russia to spend time with his ailing grandfather. He told reporters he expects to play Sunday against Pittsburgh.

But the key here is Boudreau and how he manages to keep this losing streak from taking on a life of its own, from becoming the flip side of the stretch last season when the Caps won 11 of 12 to reach the playoffs.

That was funk without the “k.”

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