If the Washington Capitals are going to knock themselves out of their current slump, they’ll need to take a page out of Eminem’s playbook at the end of the Academy Award-winning movie 8 Mile, and lay everything their naysayers have against them on the table before they even get a chance.
“Go ahead,” Eminem says as he concludes and tosses the microphone to his stunned opponent. “Tell these people something they don’t already know about me.”
So let’s do it.
The Washington Capitals have lost five games in a row.
Over that span, they have been outscored by their opponents 23-9.
Their once high-flying power play now has a decidedly Icarian feel, and even the penalty kill sits below the league average.
All of this is to say, it’s no secret the Capitals have struggled over the last few weeks. Which is why, as first reported by The Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan and confirmed by Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen after practice on Monday, the Capitals held closed-door team meetings after their 8-5 loss to Chicago on Sunday and before practice the next day, delaying its start.
“We had a little chat last night, had a bigger chat this morning,” Niskanen said with candor as he removed his pads on Monday. “Trying to get crystal clear on a few things that need to improve. We’ll try to keep a good attitude and an honest attitude about where we’re at and where we want to get to, and keep working towards it.”
Niskanen wouldn’t share specifics of who said what, but he suggested it had been a productive discussion.
“I’m not going to get into what was said, but we cleared the air of some things, and guys had some different ideas of what needs to change. Coaches re-emphasized some detail-system stuff this morning, and we’ll work at it.”
The 32-year-old blueliner spoke with the measured resolve of a veteran cowboy who’s been to a few of these-here-particular-type of rodeos before. Team meetings, it seems, are as par for the course as a 72 at Pebble Beach.
24-year-old Capitals winger Tom Wilson echoed those sentiments.
“As long as I can remember, there’s been one or two [team meetings] a year. It’s a long season, so sometimes you need to kind of refocus, talk it out, hold each other accountable, and get back to the things we need to focus on.” For his part, Wilson believes the Capitals’ established culture of excellence will help. “We’ve played some pretty good hockey the past six months. We know when we’re not playing well. It was time to just talk about it a little bit and hopefully turn it around here.”
But make no mistake: the Capitals are no lame horse limping into the bye week barn. They know there’s still work to do - or consequences to face - between here and an All-Star eternity.
“We can’t be thinking about the break yet. We got two big games here. When the break comes, we’ll use it for whatever we need. We got to take care of business here,” Wilson said. “We got two big [games] coming up, then I’ll let you know what purpose the break will serve.”
Ultimately, you would prefer your team to be composed of a group of adults who can resolve their conflicts with frank discussion and honest dialogue, instead of vigorous face-punching. Save that for the opponents.