TORONTO - The Washington Capitals don't have to scrap it out for a playoff spot this season, and it's starting to show with some indifferent play on the ice.
Last year, the Capitals were the Cinderella story of the season as they scratched and clawed their way to winning the Southeast Division with a late-season run. That won't be required this time around, as Washington has essentially had the division title sewn up for months.
While having a playoff spot booked is all well and good, it doesn't do much to hone the hunger level of a club looking to go far in the post-season derby.
"Right now our effort level has to come up," said Brooks Laich, who jammed home the late goal that pushed Tuesday's 3-2 shootout loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs to overtime. "If you asked the guys, nobody is feeling exhausted like they just emptied the tank, which is something we did last year.
"If you remember last year, every game was so desperate, we just had to win, we had to play so hard every night and that's why we were so successful this time last year. Right now, we're not doing that, we've got to find a way to ramp it up and be better."
The Capitals may find the level of competition they're facing tough to get excited about. Washington concludes the season with games against seven teams that are currently out of the playoff picture.
"It is hard to keep it up," said Washington coach Bruce Boudreau, whose team concluded a five-game road trip in Toronto and is a mediocre 5-5-2 in March. "As a coach, you want them to play as great as they can play every night and you push them to play as great as they can every night, but it doesn't happen sometimes."
Any sense of complacency hasn't affected Mike Green. The offensive defenceman already set an NHL record by scoring in eight straight games this year and, with an assist against Toronto, has seven points over his last five outings.
Boudreau said Green can be harder to deal with some nights than 51-goal man Alex Ovechkin.
"It makes every other team talk about him before the game," Boudreau said. "He's a lot more difficult to cover than, say Alex is because (Green) is coming up from the defensive aspect rather than a defenceman being on Alex.
"Even tonight, I thought he could have two or three, especially at the end of the game. But you give him an inchhe's a really good player."
Green, who was stopped point-blank by Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph in overtime, had scored in four straight games entering the match with Toronto and lamented not being able to get his team an extra point by extending that mark.
"I just do my job and if I get points, I get points," said Green, who leads all NHL blue-liners in scoring with 28 goals and 37 assists for 65 points on the season. "I just hope the goals don't stop here because I could have had a couple tonight and it wasn't my night."