There was a point this season when Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz started to notice the makeup of his bench changing. The Capitals' bench was a very excitable group in the early portion of the season, one that tended to overreact to the natural ebbs and flows of a regular-season hockey game.
In his words, the Capitals' bench was “a little bit emotionally impaired.”
That started to change around January. With Washington playing on a national stage in the Winter Classic, Trotz saw a calm on his bench that hadn’t existed previously. The Capitals beat the Blackhawks on a power-play goal from Troy Brouwer with 12.9 seconds left.
Colleague Scott Burnside called it a potential turning point for the Capitals, and in a lot of ways it was.
The Capitals started beating division rivals consistently. They took the ups and downs of the games as they came, and Trotz saw a team maturing into one that could handle the wild swings of the regular season and not let them throw its confidence out of whack. That wasn’t always the case in Washington.
“We couldn’t deal with the moment. Now we deal with the moment,” Trotz said following Sunday’s win over the Red Wings. “We understand there’s going to be peaks and valleys in every game; there’s too many good teams in this league. How you deal with those moments are critical to how you’re going to have success.”
It’s a development with the Capitals that is impossible to measure. Just like the feeling that used to surround Washington that something was off. You couldn’t pinpoint it, but you knew it was there.