ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Things were looking bleak for the Washington Capitals in early February.
Playing a new system under a rookie head coach, with a shortened training camp and zero exhibition games thanks to the lockout, Alex Ovechkin and Co. won only two of their first 11 games. Somehow, Washington wound up atop the Southeast Division and hosts the New York Rangers on Thursday night to begin an Eastern Conference playoff series.
"When you have a tough start like that, sometimes you need a meeting to talk about it and let everybody speak up," Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. "That's what I think was the turning point."
With the team last in the entire NHL and coming off a listless 5-2 loss at the Pittsburgh Penguins — "a letdown game," as forward Joel Ward put it — Washington's players went to their practice facility atop a shopping mall Feb. 8 and, before heading out to the ice, gathered in the locker room to hash things out, no coaches allowed.
"We played terrible. Didn't have any emotion. It's one you needed to talk about instantly; can't let things like that drag on," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We had to get everything out in the open, hear what everybody was feeling, why we thought we weren't playing with as much intensity as we normally do, and figure it out. Figure it out now."
Ovechkin, the team's captain, spoke up, as did forward Troy Brouwer, the only player on the roster who won a Stanley Cup (in 2010, with the Chicago Blackhawks).
Alzner, though, recalled being struck by just how many players — "half the guys on the team; even some of the younger guys" — voiced an opinion.
"A lot of guys weren't happy. A lot of guys had things to say," Alzner said. "It was nice to have everybody get their piece out there. And it was nice to listen to what everybody thinks, because everyone sees things differently."
Said Brouwer: "It doesn't matter who was talking, the message was the same. We were unhappy with ourselves."
One specific topic of discussion, according to Ward, was the high number of penalties the Capitals were getting called for at that point in the season.
Through those first 11 games, Washington gave up a league-worst 15 power-play goals.
The consensus also was that it was early enough in the season to make up for the problems they'd been having.
"We just said we had to start fresh and start all over and wipe this part of it out. Let's start from zero again," Ward said. "A new season tomorrow."