Mental toughness on the forefront in loss to Penguins
(Photo via Greg Flume)
It has become a familiar story for the Washington Capitals: they need a win, but come up terribly and embarrassingly short yet again. This time it was a loss to a once-bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in front of a national audience on NBC. But now, the rivalry is all but gone. It’s a distant memory, much like Alex Ovechkin’s 50-goal scoring seasons. Nevertheless, rivalry or not, games between these two teams never fail to be interesting.
The Capitals came out of the gate with more energy than we’ve yet seen from them this season, but it would not be enough. Despite goals from Mike Green and Mike Ribiero, plus a flukey empty-net goal by John Carlson, the Capitals would fall 6-3 to the Penguins, thanks to a Chris Kunitz hat trick. It wasn’t for lack of effort. It wasn’t Braden Holtby’s fault. It was arguably the lack of “killer instinct” or mental toughness that this team has noticeably lacked for the last several years. I immediately thought of former Caps coach Bruce Boudreau’s quote shortly before he was fired in November 2011 – “If I've got to teach them how to be tough, then I don't know quite how to do that."
The Capitals need to learn how to bounce back mentally, to fight back in tough situations. They have moments and flashes of what they could be under Adam Oates’ system and it looks great when everything clicks, but doesn’t last long. “We made a couple of mistakes but other than that I thought we played a good solid hockey game. There are things we can do better, and we’ll address that. But I don’t look at the game as one that got away from us because we weren’t playing well,” said Oates.
They did play well, and the team is clearly buying into Oates’ plan. The elements are there, but something is missing. Maybe Oates can teach them to be tough. But he shouldn't have to.