- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 27, 2011

The problems that are plaguing the Washington Capitals may be more than talent-deep. They may be more than coach-deep. They may be more than performance-deep.

Over recent weeks, players and coaches have talked about confidence — or, more specifically, lack of it. Even though they won two games last week, defenseman John Carlson summed it up well.

“I don’t think too many things are going our way,” he said.

The numbers — 3-7-1 in the past 11 games with five losses of more than three goals — are hard to shake. But the mental strain on players as it has been happening may be worse. Defenseman Mike Green’s absence has hurt, and there’s plenty of blame to go around for this tailspin. But it seems lacking confidence is the biggest culprit as things have gotten progressively worse.

Troy Brouwer commented recently that, “We just need to iron it out a little bit and [make] sure that we have those sections of the game where we’re not imploding.”

The implosions have been a major part of the problem, as the Capitals have allowed three goals in less than eight minutes six times this season.

“As soon as we get a goal scored against us it kind of feels like it’s the end of the world,” defenseman Karl Alzner said.

It was a little more than a week ago that coach Bruce Boudreau, his team losing its fourth game in a row, said something similar — that “It feels like the end of the world, but it’s not the end of the world.” The talk now is more troubling.

Goaltending, which was expected to be much-improved from last season, has struggled. Tomas Vokoun said late last week even though he was happy about his performance, it’s his job to stop the puck. He’s 10-5-0 with a 2.82 goals-against average but a .905 save percentage. Michal Neuvirth’s numbers - 2-4-1, 3.82 and .868 - don’t inspire a lot of confidence, either.

But Boudreau, asked in Buffalo about the goaltenders, made it clear everyone deserved a piece of the blame, from the top down. A 5-1 defeat to the Sabres was just the latest in a series of rough nights.

“It’s back to the drawing board and let’s see where we’re at,” Boudreau told reporters after the loss. “We’ve got to get more consistent, better efforts from a number of people.”

Defensemen Roman Hamrlik (a minus-10 rating and 18 penalty minutes this season) and Dennis Wideman (a minus-11 rating in his past eight games) were even benched late in Friday’s 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers.

Forward Alexander Semin has a team-worst 16 minor penalties, including trips to the box in nine of the past 10 games.

Left wing Jason Chimera, considered a third-liner who was part of the Caps’ best shut-down line earlier in the season, is the leading scorer with nine goals. Captain Alex Ovechkin has eight goals, nine assists and a minus-7 rating.

But, even worse, what if effort is lacking?

“You’d like to think that they’re trying their hardest,” Boudreau said. “But at the same time, when we’re not winning a lot of the battles, you’ve got to believe that there’s more to give.”

With home games this week against the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators, turning things around quick becomes a priority.

And perhaps it’s another “C” word that could contribute to fixing these problems.

“It’s just something that consistency is definitely lacking and we’ve got to find out the reason why,” Boudreau said.

If they don’t, then change could be on the horizon.

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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