- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2013

Words almost weren’t enough. Boos might not have been enough after how poorly the Washington Capitals played in a 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.

“Embarrassing is almost the right term right now. Pathetic is probably a better one,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “I feel bad for the fans. I’d like to finish a game with at least 50 percent of the fans still in the stands. Their reaction is completely warranted: booing us. We haven’t earned any of their respect. We haven’t earned any of their passion, their ambition.”

At 0-3, what the Caps earned was last place in the Eastern Conference. They’re the final team in the NHL without a point, after the Los Angeles Kings earned their first Thursday night.

“Obviously we’re frustrated, and yeah, we’re a little concerned,” said right wing Joey Crabb, who scored the Caps’ lone goal. “But nothing like hitting the panic button where we don’t think we can come out of it.”

The Caps did little against the Canadiens to engender any optimism about the franchise’s first 0-3-0 start since 1993-94. “Mistakes,” center Nicklas Backstrom said, piled up, and so did the Montreal goals. The second period was a “nightmare,” according to goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

“I would say some of our mistakes are pure effort,” coach Adam Oates said. “It’s very upsetting.”

Upsetting to play a strong first period and then watch as things unraveled because of a series of penalties and ineffective penalty kills. By midway through the second period, the Caps were down 3-0 and looked spent.

Oates called his team “a little bit fragile.”

“We’re 0-2 and things haven’t gone our way so far,” he said. “We haven’t really had a lead and just the five-on-three they got a goal and we’re behind the eight ball. It takes the air out of the building. We were playing fine. It’s an uphill battle.”

It’s only three games, but the Caps now face an uphill battle during a 48-game season. What exactly is going wrong was hard for some guys to put a finger on.

Brouwer didn’t have that problem.

“If I had to say one thing, I’d say work ethic,” Brouwer said. “We’re not out of shape. That’s an excuse right now. Guys are professionals here. They came into camp in shape, ready to go, and it’s not fitness. It’s work ethic. We’re getting outworked. We’ve been outworked three times; we’ve lost three games.”

In theory, that’s something that can be fixed quickly, like as soon as Friday night’s game at the New Jersey Devils.

But so much of what went wrong Thursday night was the continuation of a disturbing trend. Washington allowed two more power-play goals, dropping to 11-for-18 on the season on the penalty kill. At 61.1 percent, the Caps have the worst percentage in the conference.

“I think that we need pressure a little bit more,” said defenseman Karl Alzner, who along with partner John Carlson was on the ice for all four Canadiens goals. “We’re not getting the blocks that we normally would get; they’re getting past us. We’re not really intercepting pucks like we used to, normally we get our sticks on a lot more pucks, and we haven’t.”

The Caps haven’t done a lot of anything right. The power play is 2-for-12 (16.7 percent), and any offensive pressure is nonexistent.

“We just have to be smarter,” Brouwer said. “We’re doing things that peewee players do: trying to beat guys one-on-one when you’ve got three-on-twos, trying to pass through players, trying to dangle the blue line. It’s all the same crap we always do.”

Somehow, it feels worse than the adjustment to Dale Hunter almost 14 months ago. There’s the extra variable of rust after the NHL lockout, but players are running short on excuses.

Oates still thinks conditioning is a problem, but that’s not all.

“At times it’s effort,” said the coach who’s still looking for his first win. “You got to want it. You got to realize that the team on the other side, they want it, too. And you got to fight through stuff. You got to really want to do it.”

Summoning that effort shouldn’t be hard. And Brouwer doesn’t think he and his teammates need yelling and screaming for their situation to change. That’s good because Oates isn’t delivering that.

“I’m not a believer in the Knute Rockne speech. I’m not,” Oates said. “We’re pros. You got to be a pro, and you got to do your job. It’s not always gonna go your way. And you gotta show up for work.”

Players around the locker room after the humiliating loss were not going to disagree with that.

“I think it’s embarrassing the way we played,” Backstrom said. “We’ve really got to regroup and talk about this and play the way we should tomorrow.”



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