WASHINGTON (AP) — If the Washington Capitals don't soon recover what is missing — vital intangibles such as work ethic, chemistry, confidence and effort — they will end up looking like last season's Montreal Canadiens.
The Capitals, among the favorites in the Eastern Conference, are off to their worst start in nearly two decades. And the Canadiens, the dregs of the conference last season, have rolled off two straight impressive wins, including Thursday night's 4-1 victory over Washington.
"Embarrassing is almost the right term right now. Pathetic is probably a better one," Washington right wing Troy Brouwer said. "You know, 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 respect. We haven't earned any of their passion, their ambition.
"We've got to turn something around, and we've got to do it fast. ... We've got to find a way to get some enthusiasm, get some passion in our game right now."
Brouwer's teammates and new coach Adam Oates echoed most of those sentiments. The Capitals are a team out of sorts, sitting at 0-3 for the first time since the 1993-94 season. Oates called his players "fragile" and lectured them about work ethic after allowing four goals in the second period.
"I would say some of our mistakes are pure effort," Oates said. "It's very upsetting. I'm not pushing the panic button, but obviously it's upsetting. ... You've got to really want to do it."
The Canadiens also underwent a coaching change, but Michel Therrien is having more success getting his players in gear after a compressed training camp in the lockout-shortened season. Montreal has won two straight since a season-opening loss, led by a resurgent Andrei Markov.
Finally healthy after twice tearing the ACL in his right knee, Markov had a goal and an assist during the second-period spree in which the Canadiens scored 5-on-3, 5-on-4 and 5-on-5 in a little over 6 minutes.
"He controls the game really well; he's got such an important role for us," Therrien said. "He competes so hard, he's tough to play against. And he's doing a very good job on the power play."
Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges also scored for the Canadiens, and Carey Price made 30 saves.
Markov has three goals on the season, helping to mitigate the absence of P.K. Subban, who is a restricted free agent and has yet to come to terms on a new contract.