WASHINGTON -- Everything that went right during Washington's playoff run last spring, which had them just one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals, has gone completely wrong so far this season, as the Capitals have been outscored 14-6 in three contests en route to their first 0-3 start since the 1993-94 season.
In a performance that left the less-than-full crowd that remained at the end of Washington's ugly 4-1 loss to Montreal Thursday night booing their displeasure, the Capitals have proven to be nothing but a disjointed mess of a club through 180 minutes of play. In three games, the Capitals have led just 2:32 of that span en route to the winless start.
Against a Canadiens team that they swept in the season series last year - Montreal didn't even hold a single lead in four games against Washington in 2011-12 - the Caps were buried by a four-goal second period punctuated by penalties and defensive breakdowns.
Troy Brouwer didn't mince words afterwards in a somber locker room.
"Embarrassing is almost the right term right now," he said. "Pathetic is a better one. I feel bad for the fans. I'd like to finish a game with at least 50 percent of the fans still in the stands. Their actions are completely warranted, booing us. We haven't earned any of their respect, any of their passion or ambition."
When asked about the problem causing the loss, Brouwer was clear.
"If I were to say one thing, I'd say work ethic," the forward said. "We're not out of shape, that's not an excuse right now. Guys are professional, they came into camp in shape, ready to go. It's not fitness, it's work ethic. We've been outworked three games, we've lost three games."
While the Capitals are adjusting to a new system implemented by new coach Adam Oates, like Brouwer, Nicklas Backstrom felt the effort level by Washington was to blame.
"It's up to us," Nicklas Backstrom said. "Even if we have a new system, it's not such a big difference from that last system. It's just a matter of work and making the right decisions at the right time. And right now, we're not doing that."
"I would say some of our mistakes are pure effort," Oates said. "It's very upsetting. I'm not pushing the panic button, but obviously it's upsetting."
"It's a different type of game that we're playing right now," Brouwer said. "We worked hard, we worked smart last year, we're not doing that. We're turning pucks over like we did at the beginning of last season when we were struggling, and we're not making crisp plays, we're not making solid plays, we're throwing pucks away when we've got full control of them. I don't know how to characterize it right now."
To pinpoint just one problem with the Capitals to turn the season around would be difficult, as it's a perfect storm of struggle for theclub, as all aspects of the game aren't working.
The team's top two stars, Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, have just three assists combined of the team that is averaging just two goals a game, less than the 2.7 the team scored last season under the limited offensive style employed by Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter.
"There are no excuses right now," Ovechkin said. "We're not sharp, it's a little embarrassing right now."
Defensively, their top pairing of Karl Alzner and John Carlson was on the ice for all four of Montreal's goals. For the season, Alzner has been on the ice for eight of the 14 goals against the Capitals, Carlson nine of 14.
It was a performance so bad that Alzner asked assistant coach Calle Johansson to break up the long-standing pair for the final period.
"I was saying to Calle, it's just not going the right way for us, we're not getting the bounces that we normally do," Alzner said. "The easy poke check isn't happening, and it's for the both of us. We can't have two guys who things aren't going the right way together, so I mentioned it to Calle between the 2nd and 3rd we should switch or take it down a bit. We weren't contributing to anything good for the team."
In net, Braden Holtby allowed 10 goals in two games, and while Michal Neuvirth played decently in goal Thursday, the team isn't getting the key stops they need to remain in games.
Penalties and a poor penalty kill have also contributed to the slide, as the team has allowed seven power-play goals in 18 chances, including a pair Thursday.
"Our [penalty kill] I think just because of the abundance of penalties we're taking it's going to take its toll on us, we're going to get scored on," Brouwer said. "We have to continue to work hard on the PK, we have guys like [Matt Hendricks] and [Jay Beagle] working as hard as they can and blocking shots and trying to do the right things, but not everyone is working as hard and not everyone is working as smart."
"We''ve got to stay out of the box," Neuvirth said. "It would be easier for everyone. And if we do take a penalty, we have to kill it."
Things won't get any easier for the Capitals this weekend, as they visit the defending Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils on Friday and the Buffalo Sabres visit on Sunday afternoon.
"I think we just need to get one win under our belt and get rolling," Wojtek Wolski said. "Obviously we are frustrated and yeah we are concerned, but it's nothing like hitting the panic button where we think we can't come out of it. We've got skill and we just need to put a full game together."
But Brouwer knows with a 48-game schedule, there isn't a lot of time to come out of a slump.
"We have to turn something around, and we have to do it fast," he said.
For more on the ailing Caps, check in with Japers' Rink.