Sylvain Cote sat at his locker Sunday evening, still dressed in his Washington Capitals uniform, long after his teammates had changed and headed for home.
He sat there, fingering his skates and staring into space. He was going over the game the Capitals had just lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-2.
"I just want to think about Pittsburgh," the defenseman said. "I want to replay it in my mind, think about what we could have done differently, about where we made mistakes.
"This was a setback. I sit here wishing we had come out stronger. They played without Mario [Lemieux]. They were patient. When you win, it doesn't matter what you did, because you can still feel good about yourself because the team won. But when you lose on a night when you should have won . . . " The Capitals have little time to dwell on the past with the hard-checking Vancouver Canucks in town tonight.
Yesterday, the Capitals still were getting over Sunday's loss. Skating was optional, but 16 players, including Cote, practiced. What weren't optional were a team meeting and individual meetings with coach Terry Murray.
"We talked about identifying the flow of a game early," Murray said. "We talked about recognizing when things aren't going well and playing a patient game with a lot of poise. The bottom line is Pittsburgh has learned how to play patient and that's what we still have to learn."
They talked about the little things, and the little things were on Cote's mind, too.
He was thinking about the Penguins' hard checks. He was thinking about the Canucks, who also play a hard, physical game.
"When a team does that, checks you hard, you've got to be ready to take the hits and give them back," Cote said. "Sometimes we take a lot of hits, but we don't give them back. Sometimes, like [Sunday], we don't finish our checks. . . . But when you lose two like we just did, that [ticks] you off and makes you more aggressive. I think we'll play more intelligently and think more about what we're doing."
Washington had been on a seven-game winning streak, but after losing to the Boston Bruins, 5-4 in overtime Saturday, and Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh, the Capitals find themselves just three points in front of the third-place New Jersey Devils in the Patrick Division.
"It's important to stop this bleeding right here, right now," Capitals captain Kevin Hatcher said. "We didn't finish our checks, and we didn't go to the net against Pittsburgh."
The Canucks are a fast, powerful team and lead the Smythe Division. If the Capitals play the way they did on Sunday, they will be in trouble.
Sunday, the Capitals didn't seem interested. When they were on the attack, they chose to skate past the net and fight it out in the corner.
"When you win, it doesn't happen by accident," Murray said. "And when winning goes on for a while, like it had for us, you have a tendency to avoid doing the little things -- forechecking, battling for position. Sunday, we weren't really trying. Certainly, we need to get back to the grind-it-out kind of hockey."
If that happens, no one will find Cote sitting in his uniform an hour after the game.
"We're going to regroup," Cote said. "We'll refocus and go right back at it. I think we'll be willing to pay the price."