As the Capitals struggled to simply keep their heads above water after their disastrous start, they frantically searched for answers to plug the holes in what was quickly becoming a sinking ship.
"It doesn't matter what situation you're in, when things aren't going well, you point fingers, you second-guess yourself," defenseman Karl Alzner said earlier this week. "You ask, 'Is this system right? Do we have the right goalie, right defensemen? You're always going to pick on something and that's what we were doing."
But as the bow began to flood and it seemed all but certain that the Capitals would bow out of postseason contention, they were buoyed by an eight-game winning streak, extended in a 5-1 victory over the Maple Leafs Tuesday at Verizon Center -- and the confidence that comes with it.
“I’d say our confidence is as high as it’s been in a very long time, since I’ve been here,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “Any time you can put eight wins together in a lot of different ways -- a couple by shootouts, a couple decisive wins, a few where you've got to battle it out -- we’re finding ways to win, we’re playing really good hockey and we know everybody’s coming to play every night.”
When you consider how hapless and hopeless Washington looked just one month ago, its rapid turnaround is nothing short of astonishing.
Of course, it's been said that the captain goes down with the ship, but Alex Ovechkin has kept his team afloat with 19 goals in his last 18 games, leading the Capitals to a 14-3-1 record and further strengthening his candidacy for the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player.
Washington is also receiving contributions from throughout its lineup, from the solid goaltending of Braden Holtby to the timely scoring of role players like Brouwer and defenseman Jack Hillen, who have combined for seven goals in the team's last four games.
"It's growing every day," Holtby said of the Capitals' confidence. "We're not getting overconfident right now, which is good."
Tempering that confidence has been a primary focus of Coach Adam Oates, who has de-emphasized the importance of individual and team statistics.
“We honestly haven’t talked about statistics, where we are [in the standings], how many [wins] in a row, or ‘Man, we’re playing good,'" he said. "One of the things we talk about is that I expect those guys to be pros.
“You can enjoy it tonight, sure. It was a good game. Tomorrow we focus on Ottawa."
As the Capitals embark on their final road trip of the season, they do so not as a tattered ship, but as a proud vessel with undeniable confidence in tow.
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