WASHINGTON -- Members of the Washington Capitals woke up Monday morning and were reminded how much fun it is to go to work the day after winning a hockey game.
It had been too long for the Capitals -- 19 days, to be exact -- since they defeated St. Louis to push their record to 18-6-2. Eight losses later, Washington had fallen from the top not only of the NHL standings, but the Eastern Conference and Southeast Division, as well.
A 3-2 victory in Ottawa has the team at least temporarily back in front of a crowded Southeast, but more importantly could help propel the Capitals back toward their typical level of play.
"You see the coaches walking around and George (McPhee, GM) walking around and you can look them in the eye and think, 'Yeah, we won and we battled hard,' instead of just putting your head down and feeling shame," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We've tried our best but we've had some bad results. It was really tough to handle."
The Capitals quickly fell behind by two goals to the Senators, but just like the night before in Boston, they were able to take control of the play and mount a rally. Washington's bid to end the slump at seven fell short Saturday -- mostly because goaltender Tim Thomas turned aside 25 of 26 shots in the final period for the Bruins.
A comeback for the Capitals against Ottawa proved more fruitful. Mathieu Perreault scored twice and Eric Fehr added one in a three-goal second period, and the Capitals held off the Senators in the third thanks to some quality work on the penalty kill.
The key for Washington now is moving forward. The Capitals still have lost 12 of their past 17 games and their spot in second place in the East partly is because of the extra games they have played compared to teams like Boston, Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Starting a winning streak when New Jersey comes to Verizon Center on Tuesday is the next step as the Capitals try to move back toward the top of the League standings.
"We have to build off this. We can't just relax right now," center Nicklas Backstrom said. "I think we still have to work hard. I think we played two good periods against Ottawa there and we just have to keep doing what we're doing -- work hard and get the puck to the net. Even though (New Jersey's) not doing good in the standings, they are a good team and we can't relax."
Added coach Bruce Boudreau: "We had a pretty good meeting and I think I spelled it out pretty well this morning. It was great to end that number, but it's not like all of a sudden we've won 10 in a row. We've got to get back to basics again and we've got to just work just as hard, if not harder, to win the next one."
One reason for the Capitals to feel like the momentum is moving in a positive direction is the quality of the team's play in the past five games. Sure, there was a high-profile stinker at Madison Square Garden, but in each of the other three losses leading up to the win against Ottawa there were definite signs of life.
Washington might have won against Colorado on Saturday were it not for a major penalty and ejection leveled against Alexander Semin for a post-whistle cross-check on John-Michael Liles that left the team shorthanded and led to the game-winning goal. A couple of near-goals proved to not be the difference against Anaheim on Wednesday, and Washington outshot Boston 26-2 in the final 20 minutes but came up one goal short. Those losses were deflating at the time, but now could be molded into positives in the near future.
"You have to take positives from some of these games," Alzner said. "I think the periods that we have played good, we've played really well and stuck to the systems. We've shown ourselves we can do this. All we need to do is if we're not going to play that way for a full 60 minutes, then we need to play 40 really hard and 20 that are pretty good. Our problem is we've been playing 20 that are just bad. That's what has been really hurting us.
"This team, and with the way we normally score, we can afford to have one that is not our best period and still get wins. We need to pick that up, though. If we're going to lay off the gas, we can't take our foot completely off."
One thing is for sure -- the mood on the team's charter plane was improved significantly as the team returned to Washington late Sunday night from the same scenario seven days prior after the rout in New York.
"Guys were talking and joking around a little bit, which was nice," Alzner said. "It was a lot more relaxing. It is tough to say right now, but we're starting to play the way we want to play. I think the last three games have been pretty good for us. We'll see how things go, but (losing 7-0 to New York) could have been our rock bottom. We saw what that was like and how awful it was and how much everyone hated the atmosphere being around the rink from the losing. Hopefully we can stay away from that."