Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau put his team, losers of three straight games -- two of them 5-0 blowouts -- through a rigorous practice that involved skating, some drills with a heavy focus on skating … and then some more skating.
"It begins with work ethic," defenseman Mike Green said. "Last night was prime example of us not playing -- it was probably one of the worst games we've played in two years. It was a lack of work ethic. Anytime we don't work hard, we get exposed and that's that. Our skill can hide it at times when we slack off, but when we're not working at all it is pretty clear how it affects us."
Added Alex Ovechkin: "It is hard after that kind of game. You expect to win and to take a day off, but we lost and we have to work. It was good practice for us."
The Capitals are tied atop the NHL standings with Philadelphia at 30 points, but a shootout loss to the Flyers at home on Saturday has been bookended by a pair of 5-0 defeats at Atlanta and New Jersey – two teams outside the top eight of the Eastern Conference.
Washington won the Presidents' Trophy last season and led the League in goal differential at plus-85, which was 23 goals better than the next-best team. The Capitals are minus-11 in their past three games, the worst stretch since Boudreau became the coach three years ago. It also matched the franchise's worst stretch since Ovechkin arrived in 2005-06.
"The solution is we go out and play hard," center David Steckel said. "Those are some ugly losses that haven't been good. There is one game in between there where we did play hard. That is just it – it is inconsistency. I think everybody is embarrassed. Everyone needed a swift kick in the [butt] and we got one today."
Injuries played a role in the club's loss to the Devils at the Prudential Center on Monday night. Goaltender Michal Neuvirth was unable to play because of a lower-body "tweak" and he did not practice Tuesday. Semyon Varlamov was recalled from Hershey of the American Hockey League but had played in back-to-back games for the Bears and is trying to recover from a second injury of this season, so he was available only on an emergency basis.
Braden Holtby started and allowed five goals on his first 13 shots before being one of the team's best players the second half of the game while preventing the score from really getting out of hand.
Boudreau said Neuvirth could be back in net Wednesday against Carolina.
"No, but that was more precautionary than anything else," Boudreau said when asked about Neuvirth not practicing Tuesday. "He should be fine for tomorrow, according to our training staff. He felt really good, but they thought one more day would be real good for him."
The Capitals finished the game with four healthy defensemen because Green and Tyler Sloan left with injuries. Sloan did not practice Tuesday and Boudreau doesn't expect him to play. Green did practice, but Boudreau said he was restricted from performing certain skills on the ice.
"No idea to be honest with you," Green said about his availability for Wednesday, although Boudreau said he thinks his No. 1 defenseman will be fine. "It is more of something that has been bothering me in the past and it is not getting better."
Tom Poti has missed all but five games for the Capitals this season, but he practiced Monday and Tuesday and is "real close" to returning, Boudreau said. If Poti and Sloan can't play, the Capitals would either have to recall a defenseman from Hershey or play versatile forward Brooks Laich there.
Laich practiced on defense Tuesday, and he's played there in emergency situations for Washington in the past.
"We make big things about nothing. We want to make big things about nothing," Boudreau said. "After every game in every arena in new hockey you will see people talking to their countrymen and it happens everywhere. When we win at Verizon [Center] I don't see anyone reporting when they come over and have guys waiting at the door to talk to any of our guys. Just because I look over [at them] we make a big stink about a non-story."
For the players, a game Wednesday night will be a chance to snap out of a three-game slide that looks very uncharacteristic compared to the rest of the results in the early part of this season.
"We are a good team and we can battle through slumps like this," rookie defenseman John Carlson said. "It is unacceptable, but it isn't the end of the world. It is still November. We've got to turn things around and I don't think anyone in here is ready to hit the panic button."