Everything appeared normal at the Washington Capitals' team meeting yesterday at Piney Orchard Ice Rink.
Some players relaxed and sprawled out in the training room eating pizza. Others spent the time watching game tapes and checking their sticks.
Everything appeared normal -- except for the homework.
After the meeting, Caps coach Jim Schoenfeld asked each player to answer some questions on a sheet of paper, which detailed their motivation and goals after having their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series lead against Pittsburgh cut to 3-2 on Sunday. Each player took 15 minutes to finish the form, and gave a copy of it to Schoenfeld while keeping the original.
"It's another way to focus in on the tangibles of hockey," said Schoenfeld, who used this same tactic before last year's playoff series win over Pittsburgh. "Writing it down makes you think about it. It's a matter of focus and mentally playing it over in your mind."
Schoenfeld would not discuss the specifics of the papers, saying it was an internal matter. Nevertheless, it served to gain the Caps' attention for Game 6 tonight.
Washington played out of its usual executing and close-checking defensive style in Game 5. The Caps attempted to run-and-gun with the Penguins, who won, 6-5, on Luc Robitaille's goal 4:30 into overtime.
The emphasis yesterday was to get back to "Cap hockey."
"It was close looking at the score, but we were not in the game," Schoenfeld said. "We played away from our system. Hopefully, we'll play our hockey and end this series."
Most players did not want to comment about the content of the papers, but said it helped in preparing for tonight's game.
"It's important to go through what you want to put out on the ice before each game," Caps center Kelly Miller said. "That's what we tried to do in the meeting. It's just a matter of putting it down on paper."
The top priority for the Caps is to continue their home success against the Penguins and silence any parallels with the 1992 playoffs, when Pittsburgh came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Washington in seven games.
Washington has won six of the past seven meetings with Pittsburgh at home. In the past two weeks, the Caps are 3-0 against the Penguins at USAir Arena, outscoring Pittsburgh 19-6, and have won five straight home playoff games against them.
"It's a must-win for us," Washington right wing Keith Jones said. "This is an exciting time. To have the fans behind us gives us an advantage in our building."
Schoenfeld stressed the urgency to end the series at home and avoid a Game 7 in Pittsburgh.
"[Pittsburgh] is a beautiful city with great people, but I don't want to go back there," he said. "We have to play like our backs are to the wall."
Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins
Site: USAir Arena, Landover
TV/Radio: HTS/WMAL (630 AM)
Outlook: Washington leads the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against Pittsburgh, but the margin has shrunk to 3-2 in the best-of-seven series. The Caps need to get back to their solid defensive play if they plan to win Game 6. The Penguins, meanwhile, got a big boost to their morale with a 6-5 overtime victory in Game 5. If they can continue to make the Caps run, the series is likely to return to Pittsburgh for a final showdown Thursday. Washington D Mark Tinordi (sprained knee) and C Dave Poulin (separated shoulder) are out. Pittsburgh D Chris Tamer (fractured ankle) is out.
CAPS VS. PENGUINS
EASTERN CONF. QUARTERFINAL
Washington leads series, 3-2
Game 1: Capitals, 5-4
Game 2: Penguins, 5-3
Game 3: Capitals, 6-2
Game 4: Capitals, 6-2
Game 5: Penguins, 6-5, OT
Tonight: at Wash., 7:30
Thursday: at Pitt., 7:30 p.m.*