The excuses readily available to the Washington Capitals were plentiful.
Their third head coach in 14 months, a new style of play, a six-day training camp to learn it all and shake off rust before a lockout-shortened season began. A slow start would have been permissible considering the circumstances,
What is not, however, is an issue of effort, which is exactly what has stymied Washington through three games, especially Thursday's 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens that forward Troy Brouwer characterized as "embarrassing" and "pathetic." Through the first five days of the season, the Capitals have been outperformed and outclassed, having lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Winnipeg Jets and Canadiens by a combined score of 14-6 and having led for only 2:32 all season.
"If I had to say one thing, I'd say work ethic," Brouwer said when asked what he believed to be the biggest problem. "We're not out of shape. That's an excuse right now. Guys are professionals here, they came into camp in shape, ready to go. It's not fitness. It's work ethic. We're getting outworked. We've been outworked three times, we've lost three games."
Thursday, Washington -- now the only Eastern Conference team without a win and the only pointless team in the NHL -- fell apart in the second period, allowing four unanswered Montreal goals in less than 13 minutes. The power play continued to struggle, finishing 0-for-4 for a season total of 2-for-12, while the penalty kill, which allowed two more goals Thursday, is anemic at best at 61.1 percent, 27th out of 30 teams in the NHL. As has been an issue so far this season, the Capitals looked lost in all facets of the game; defensive lapses led to easy Canadiens goals -- particularly the third goal when three Capitals chased Canadiens forward Rene Bourque into the corner, leaving forward Brian Gionta completely unguarded in front of the net -- and the numerous alterations to the line combinations in an effort to provide some or any kind of offensive spark proved futile.
To their credit, the Capitals took full responsibility for their effort and did not blame learning head coach Adam Oates' system for their struggles. Even Oates himself recognized that, saying that some of his team's mistakes were those of "pure effort" and going as far as calling them "fragile." Regardless, that does not excuse them from yet another lackluster performance precipitated by poor work ethic.
Oates can attempt to impart as much knowledge as he wants, but effort is not and should not be something that he has to teach and poor showings such as Thursday's will only serve to undermine any sort of strategy that he intends to utilize.
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Success is dependent on effort. That is one lesson that Washington has yet to seemingly grasp. And there is no excuse for that.
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