In blowing out the Florida Panthers on Saturday, the Washington Capitals eased the pain. For the first time this season, two points came easy.
Players said amid a torrent of losing that’s what they needed: not just a victory but one that can spark a winning streak.
“We just got to start with one and get going,” forward Eric Fehr said last week.
One subject of conversation last week included the notion that the early season woes could be easily solved by a four- or five-game streak. Of course, any team could use that, and it would put the Caps into playoff position.
“The good thing is [a] four or five-game stretch together [can put us] back up there,” left wing Jason Chimera said. “So I think we got the team to do it.”
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves after the 15th-place team in the Eastern Conference beat the 14th-place team. At home. With all the motivation in the world to turn things around.
The Caps had a players-only meeting Friday to clear the air because something had to give.
“This team plays hard enough; it’s good enough,” general manager George McPhee said Friday. “It’s just having a heck of a bad stretch, but it can flip. They win a game and then win another one and then it goes the other way.”
Hard enough is not how center Mathieu Perreault saw it. It wasn’t a matter of work ethic, but maybe the Caps needed to play with more urgency.
“I think we have to play a little bit more desperate and tell ourselves that, ‘Boy, if we lose this one, we’re out of the playoffs,’” Perreault said. “I think guys would come hard and play so much harder. I think that’s what we need; we need that desperation to get on the ice and feel like we have to win every single game to make the playoffs.”
If the Caps win the next 36, they’ll make the playoffs, win the Presidents’ Trophy and set an NHL record. That’s not going to happen, unless somehow the Panthers are the opponent every time out and each game takes place at Verizon Center.
And it doesn’t have to. But coach Adam Oates even acknowledged that Saturday night was “only one win.” It doesn’t mask some season-long scoring deficiencies and a tendency to make mistakes in bunches.
Those problems were invisible against the Panthers, who started 1-5-0 and laid an egg with Jose Theodore far from remarkable against some former teammates.
Since Theodore left Washington, he’s 0-3-0 with a 3.97 goals-against average against the Caps.
That’s not to say the Caps shouldn’t be commended for taking advantage of Florida’s flat effort and lighting up Theodore. They did a lot of things right, getting the kind of breaks that come from playing what Oates calls “correct” hockey.
But if the mental mistakes of the previous 11 games return for the road trip at the Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers, the Caps will look back at Saturday night as just a brief flash of what could be.
With players calling this team “fragile” and the general manager agreeing, regression would be unacceptable.
“We already gave ourself a big enough hole with being complacent,” goaltender Braden Holtby said, “and right now we’re not going to step off the gas the rest of the year.”