Diluted Capitals still lacking consistency

Diluted Capitals still lacking consistency

Published Jan. 9, 2012 11:34 p.m. ET

— Looking to build on a four-game winning streak with two games in the Golden State, the Washington Capitals headed west without the services of defenseman Mike Green and leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom.

Both players flew home from Los Angeles on Monday afternoon and are "day-to-day," which Caps coach Dale Hunter reiterated several times during a morning skate at STAPLES Center.

"Day-to-day" could also be an accurate description of a Washington squad that one night can look like the elite team everyone expected to contend for a Stanley Cup and, the next night, like a mistake-prone, defensive quagmire.

Set back by 5-2 defeats at San Jose and Los Angeles, Washington returned home to face Pittsburgh on Wednesday right back where they've been for much of the season — searching for that elusive consistency.

"We have parts of our game that are really good, and we'll play a great 20 minutes, 30 minutes and then we forget about it," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "Or we win a game, we play 60 minutes hard and then next game we're a completely different team."

The latter example was evident during their California misadventure, where they followed up a strong showing in a loss in San Jose (the game was tied in the third period before the Sharks rallied) with a stinker at The Stapler in which they treated the Kings' neutral zone offensive charges much like Roger Dorn treated sharply hit groundballs in the movie "Major League" — there was too much "Ole!" in LA.

"Our record all year proves that we're not playing well enough on the road," Hunter said. "You're in another building; you're going to have to play harder. When you play on the road, the other team's ready."

The statistics don't exactly back up the notion of "keeping things simple," hockey-speak often used referencing a blueprint to win on the road. Penalty-killing and goaltending also aid the road effort, and Washington has been lacking both. Boasting an imbalanced penalty kill that ranks sixth in the league at home, Washington has killed only 76 percent of its penalties away from the Verizon Center, the fourth-worst road mark in the league. They've allowed 3.8 goals per game in their past 13 road games and, as a result, have gone 3-9-1.

The 5-2 loss to the Kings — a squad that lost 1-0 to Columbus on Saturday and had found the back of the net just twice in its previous 185:58 — seemed to embody all of Washington's defensive shortcomings. Forwards were getting caught deep in the offensive zone, leading to wide-open neutral ice and a collection of odd-man rushes, while Thomas Vokoun was pulled after two periods after an uninspiring effort. For one night, the Capitals allowed the NHL's lowest-scoring team to look like the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers.

Shaking off the idea he must put produce points for his injury-depleted team to win, Alexander Ovechkin said the gaffes were shared throughout the locker room.

"I don't think it's all about me; it's all about us," Ovechkin said. "We wanted to have a good start, and we had a good start. Two mistakes cost us almost the whole game — (Dennis) Wideman lost a guy in our zone and he got a goal and (Brooks) Laich lost a puck. I'm not calling out only these two guys. I had mistakes in our zone and everybody had mistakes in our zone, and that cost us the game."

Vokoun, who stopped 23 of 27 in his two periods of work, offered a more blunt assessment.

"We've got to try and win every game we can," he said. "We're not in the playoffs right now, so we need every point."