Karl Alzner sat alone in his locker stall, right arm resting on his right knee, right hand running through his sweat-drenched hair. He stared blankly into space, perhaps hoping that the answers to the Capitals' problems would just appear out of nowhere. Yet all the defenseman could find was the reality of another confounding loss setting in.
"I've never experienced a start to a season like this before, so it's very frustrating to me," Alzner said after Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington's eighth loss in 10 games. "I'm always asking 'Why?'"
That is the question that has yet to yield an answer: Why?
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Why is every mistake seemingly taken advantage of? Why are the bounces inevitable throughout the course of a game never going Washington's way?
"I really don’t have the answers," said forward Matt Hendricks. "I’m having a hard time with this."
As the Capitals continue to search for those elusive answers, they also continue to slip in the standings. Once again, the Capitals (2-7-1) find themselves in the NHL cellar, a place they used to frequently inhabit, but had outgrown -- until recently.
Tuesday's loss was another in an unsettling collection that has unfortunately become commonplace. Washington did not play poorly by any means and even outplayed its opponent, but Toronto capitalized on human error.
Miscommunication behind the net between goaltender Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Tom Poti allowed Leafs forward James Van Riemsdyk to scoop up the puck and wrap-around for an easy goal to open the scoring in the first period. Later, Cody Franson broke his stick on a shot attempt from the slot, but Van Riemsdyk was left uncontested to corral the rebound and score his second goal in less than three minutes.
"That seems to be the way everything is kind of going right now," Poti said. "We make one little mistake and it’s in the back of our net, but we got to work hard and try to change our luck."
Head coach Adam Oates has continually stressed that as long as his team plays what he refers to as "correct hockey," he will accept losses -- but moral victories don't count in the standings, where Washington is losing time to make up ground.
There will come a point when playing well and losing will no longer be acceptable, and both the Capitals and their coach, who admitted Tuesday that he is "[running] out of cliches to tell the guys," know that that time is approaching.
"Yeah, absolutely," Oates said. "At some point you can't have those breakdowns."
"I still feel like we play good hockey, just never good enough to win though," Alzner added. "It's about time we get over that hump."
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