"It was a lot better than previous plane rides," said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau at the team's training facility on Monday, a day after the Caps snapped an eight-game slide with a 3-2 victory over the Senators. "At least we were telling funny stories rather than trying to dissect the game."
Memories of the franchise's longest losing streak in more than three seasons, however, aren't about to fully fade away. Nor are the questions as to whether the rest of the league has solved a team that had moved so seamlessly through the regular season the last couple of years.
"I think they are playing us more defensively now," said Washington center Nicklas Backstrom. "It's like they're waiting for us to turn the puck over."
Boudreau's tweaks have included matching lines with the opposition, something that he's resisted since he took over as coach in November 2007. Factor in the injuries to all-star forward Alexander Semin (day to day with an undisclosed ailment) and defenseman Jeff Schultz (out four more weeks with a broken thumb), and this Caps team has had a different look of late.
Captain Alex Ovechkin, who has scored at least 50 goals the past three seasons, has 12 goals through the first 35 games and only two over the prior 17 contests entering Tuesday's game against the visiting New Jersey Devils. Backstrom, who scored 101 points a season ago, has seven points in December and Semin --- who has missed the past three games -- has no goals this month.
"We have to get the basics against (New Jersey)," Boudreau said. "We have to work just as hard if not harder to win the next game."
Boudreau said, through a team spokesman, that Semin is doubtful for Tuesday's game, although the Russian winger did skate for the first time in days on Monday. The Caps will also likely be without forward Eric Fehr, who returned home for the funeral of his grandmother.
But for the first time in weeks, the Caps do have one thing back in the lineup: a little bit of their old swagger.
"Maybe we were holding onto that stick a little bit tighter," said center Mathieu Perreault, who scored two goals on Sunday. "Now that we have that one win, we going to get looser and start playing like we used to. We'll be fine."