The Washington Capitals need more than soul-searching. Caught in a four-game losing streak, they need something more tangible. They need a rally, beginning tonight in Toronto against the undefeated Maple Leafs.
"We're suffering from a lack of intensity, nothing else," said center Dave Poulin. "We gave up four power-play goals to the New York Rangers. Four. We've got penalty killers. Some of us get paid primarily to do that -- and we're not doing it."
Poulin is one of those penalty killers. He also is one of the men brought in to make up for the absence of center Dale Hunter -- often called Washington's heart and soul -- who is serving a 21-game suspension for a late hit on the New York Islanders' Pierre Turgeon during last season's playoffs.
With the Capitals off to their worst start in 10 years, the questions are surfacing about how much Washington misses Hunter, who won't be back until November.
But, as coach Terry Murray pointed out after Monday's 5-2 loss to the Rangers, there is so much wrong with the Capitals right now, calling for Hunter wouldn't make the difference between winning and losing.
The Capitals can look at every aspect of their game and see need for vast improvement.
Goalie Don Beaupre, who has been pulled in two games -- including Monday's loss -- for rookie Olie Kolzig, had a fleeting thought during Monday's game that Washington is playing the way the Rangers played last season, when, despite their talent, they could not get themselves going and missed the playoffs.
Washington management is not going to wait too long before making moves. A year ago, when Washington started 3-7, general manager David Poile traded Kevin Miller for defenseman Paul Cavallini, trying to jump-start the Capitals.
"It's not part of our jobs to worry about that stuff," said forward Mike Ridley. "I've been around a lot of trades. Some have nothing to do with how a team is playing; some do. In this case, it might come to that, but all we can do is work as hard as we can. Right now, we're playing as bad as you can get. We can't get any worse."
After Monday's loss, Poile said he was not thinking trade yet, but he did hold a 10-minute meeting with his team, stressing that each player was at fault.
"I think we all know that," said Beaupre. "Defensemen, forwards, goalies, none of us can say we're doing all we can do right now. Maybe if we could win just one ugly game, it would set us right. Or maybe to lose competitively would be a help. That's sad to say, but that's how bad we are right now. We haven't been in a game yet."
Murray had hoped strong defense would provide a building block, but against the Rangers, the team's full-strength defensemen never got a chance, because Washington was forced to try to kill penalties from the second minute on. They couldn't.
It is a strange turn of events. When things started going bad -- and they were going bad from the start -- the penalty-killing unit was playing well.
It killed 14 of 16 penalties in the first two games. But in the past two, the unit that seemed so solid has joined the rest of the team in its ineptitude, giving up six of 12.
Saying the unit "is no good at all," Murray said he is considering moving Ridley, whom he had hoped to free up to do more offensive work, back to penalty killing.
"I want to help and do all I can," Ridley said. "But one guy isn't going to solve the penalty-killing problem. It's a unit, and right now it isn't playing as a unit."