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Could this six-game slump be a ‘good’ thing in the long run for the Washington Capitals?

Dec 12, 2010, 10:30 PM EDT

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Aside from a literal example in Alex Ovechkin’s scrum with Brandon Dubinsky, the Washington Capitals didn’t show much fight against the New York Rangers tonight. Madison Square Garden was the sight of the Capitals’ sixth consecutive loss by a staggering score of 7-0.

This is the first six-game losing streak for the Capitals since March 2007, according to Katie Carrera.

Upon their fifth straight defeat, Joe wondered if it was time for the Capitals to worry. On one hand, there are certainly some troubling signs. The typically torrid Washington offense has only produced eight goals in that six game skid while their now-shaky goalies allowed 22 (although the seven allowed tonight by Semyon Varlamov certainly makes that number a little worse). It’s expected that their penalty kill isn’t elite, but one power-play goal allowed per game (six power-play goals allowed in 24 penalty kills during the skid) is pretty troubling. More worrisome might be their normally high octane power play, which only produced three goals in 26 opportunities over those six games.

So, yes, there is some reason to be worried. But let me throw out a wildly different hypothesis: maybe such a slump is exactly what Washington needs?*

In the last few seasons, Ovechkin and the Capitals cruised through regular seasons as their chests grew increasingly puffy and their arrogance skyrocketed. While I think that they brought plenty of effort in that stunning series against the Montreal Canadiens, the bottom line is that a first round defeat was tremendously disappointing.

The thing is, the team didn’t need to face much soul searching or adversity in the 2009-10 season until they ran up against a brick wall in the form of Jaroslav Halak. I’m sure a Capitals fan will dig up some obscure flu bug that hit the team during winter months (or something), but the bottom line is that teams tend to develop true chemistry with their backs up against the wall.

So why not have your first “gut check” moments in December rather than in April, when the margin of error is close to zero? It’s not safe to say that every championship team hit a low point like the Capitals are experiencing, but there is some precedent to the concept of bonding through tough times. The 2008-09 Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t even look like they were going to make the playoffs until as late as February, for example.

Look, I’m not saying that every contending hockey team benefits from the “palate cleansing” experience that comes from a losing streak. But for a team that is becoming the “San Jose Sharks: East” (considering their red-hot regular season runs and playoff disappointments), they might benefit from learning how much they hate losing before they can win the games that truly matter.

* Or maybe they just need offensive defenseman/catalyst Mike Green to return? The hockey media’s go-to Caps scapegoat hasn’t played in a game since November 28th; the Capitals won exactly once since then.

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