Capitals aren't playing up to their potential, Lars Eller says

Chris Lingebach
March 11, 2020 - 3:32 pm

The Capitals simply aren't playing up to their potential, a problem just as obvious to fans as it is to center Lars Eller.

"I think there's just games where I can see we're not playing up to the level that we're capable of," Eller told The Sports Junkies during his weekly appearance, driven by AAA. "And then some of those games, we kind of raise our level in the second or third period when we're already down two or three goals.

"But we should be playing that way from the beginning of the game and not waiting to get pissed off or realize that we have to bring that level to win or whatever it is."

Eller has made a point to question Washington's efforts after recent losses. The standings don't nearly tell the story of a first-place team that sits atop the Metro Division with 90 points. The Caps are 14-16 (.466) with two overtime losses over their last 30 games, quite the dip from the .709 clip at which they played through their first 31 games.

And yet the Caps seem to raise their play against specific opponents, taking their last two games against Pittsburgh with conviction, only to fall apart against an inferior club like Buffalo their next time out on the ice.

Asked if the level of competition they bring is a matter of who's lined up across from them, Eller conceded, "Yeah, I think that's very much part of it. I think when you go up against the Penguins, there's just more emotion in everyone. It's a rivalry game. It's one versus two in the division. So much history. You're playing against some of the best players in the league."

"Everybody is just on and you just know you're gonna have to bring your best against that team if you're gonna win," he said. "At least the last two games we played against them, we have raised our level and played up to our potential, what we're capable, what we know this team is capable of doing.

"And then there's games where we play teams that are lower in the standings and we think... I'm saying 'we.' I think. I'm not gonna speak for everybody. But it can appear in a way that looks like we can win some games, even though we're not playing our best. And so just you losing a couple of percentage, a little bit of intensity or attention to detail, now you lose races to loose pucks, maybe you lose battles, maybe you don't execute that pass; now it gets (broken) up, whatever. And now you're ending up being on the losing side of games, where you should be capable of winning if you're playing up to your potential."

"But there's games where we're not quite there, where we know we can play at," he said. "At the same time, no teams play up to what they're capable of 82 games a year. We've done a great job of that the first 50 games or whatever it is, now we've gotta keep working to get back to that here before the playoffs starts."

Asked if he's sensing frustration from the coaching staff, Eller said that's not the right word to describe Todd Reirden's sentiments.

"I don't know if frustration is the right word. You definitely feel there is a sense of urgency," he said. "There's a sense of everybody is not happy with losing games, but there's no panic, either. It's a fine line between demanding more from yourself and from your players and the guy sitting next to you, but also it still needs to be fun to come to work and looking forward to the next one, and have a good positive atmosphere."

"Even when things aren't going so well on the ice, you need to see smiles every day you come to practice and come to games," he said. "I think we generally do a good job of that here. But I'm sure Todd and everybody else would have liked to see (us) win some games lately that we have been on the losing side of, no doubt."