The Capitals' play over their last 20 games is developing into a trend that's "getting concerning" to Craig Laughlin.
"It's sort of getting concerning to me," he said, "because it's not like it's, 'Oh, well, it's two or three games and we haven't played well.' But when you really roll back the clock, and if you watch closely as you guys do, it's been about a 20-game segment here and, that compared to the first 25 or 30, are totally different."
"They are not playing Caps hockey," he said. "They're sloppy. They can't seem to break out the puck cleanly. They're struggling with defensive sort-outs in their own zone and going to the (guide), trying to do everybody's job, instead of worrying about doing their own job. And because of that, they get thumped twice."
"I mean this is a team that prides itself on not allowing a lot of goals against and then running up and scoring a ton, and that's what's made them such a great team, because they're so good in transition," Laughlin went on. "But now I'm not seeing that speed, guys, and it's because they're getting clogged down in their own zone, they're misreading on the back-checks, they're taking the wrong guy, and all of a sudden they're having three-on-twos – a tic-tac-toe – some beautiful passing plays last night that are exposing the Caps."
"The Caps have to really regroup in a hurry because this has been a long trend, and longer trends in sports are harder to break than these little, short spurts and problem areas," he said. "They can be corrected by coaching, but right now this is a real concern to me."
The Caps are 11-9 over their last 20 games, stemming from their Dec. 21 win over Tampa Bay. In that span, they've allowed five or more goals on six separate occasions, and they've held opponents to three goals or less 10 times.
Laughlin was asked for the recipe to the Caps breaking out of this slump.
Asked for the recipe to the Caps breaking out of this slump, Laughlin said, "I've been through some eight- and nine- and 10-game losing streaks where, all of a sudden now, everybody says the biggest thing, 'Oh, we're losing our confidence. We're losing this. We're losing that.' And I've always thought that, when you look at the sporting teams and the great teams in sports, they always seem to rebound because they find their game."
"And they find their game because they're doing the basics," he said. "And it's harder – you know, people just say, 'Ah, just do the basics!' And it's good, but I'll explain this, because sometimes when you're a goal scorer and you're not goal-scoring, all of a sudden now you're so worried about goal-scoring that you're not doing the three things that you need to do prior to goal-scoring.
"Now you're so consumed in goal-scoring that maybe you're standing around. And to score goals, there's probably three things: you have to have good stick position; you have to have good speed to get around a guy; and you've got to have courage to go to the net and all those type of things. So if you miss one of those steps, you're not gonna score!"
"And that's why, if you're a checker, you better check and go through a guy," Laughlin continued. "And case in point: The Caps' fourth line is fine! (Garnet) Hathaway, (Brendan) Leipsic and (Nic) Dowd are the epitome of doing the right thing as far as their roles are, and continuing to do the basics of what their role is.
"And that is getting in on the forecheck, dumping the puck, not turning it over at the blue line, because they know if they turn it over, they're gonna be sat! So that's what the other three lines, along with the D, have to do. Case in point: Go back against the Flyer game. The Caps come out of their zone, (Michal) Kempny wheels the net, hits Kuznetsov beautifully on his stick.
"It bounces off his stick, which 10-out-of-10 – or 9-out-of-10 I guess, because he lost that one – he should be able to capture, and they're out and now they're attacking the other way instead. Maybe stick preparation, not really ready. Maybe Kempny put a little bit too much mustard on it. Whatever the case may be, he loses the puck and the Flyers score, piping in, unassisted goal."