Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Capitals Finding Ways to Win

Through 11 games, the Capitals have amassed a 7-2-2 mark, built a seven-point lead in the Southeast Division and are just two points behind Pittsburgh for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

And scary part is, they haven't even been playing 60 full minutes of hockey for most of the season.

Like Saturday night's win over the Islanders, the Caps really didn't kick into gear until the last minutes of the second period when Alexander Ovechkin beat Ray Emery, and then Nicklas Backstrom struck quickly to wipe out a two-goal deficit. While Alexander Semin put the Caps up with a well-placed shot in the third, Jose Theodore made sure the door shut on a Flyers' comeback attempt, stopping 39 of 41 shots and even a penalty shot in the final frame.

Besides the first two games of the campaign, Washington has certainly not been perfect, having a struggling power play and an inconsistent effort. But the important thing for the Capitals is they keep accumulating points, earning at least one in nine contests.

Even the team's two regulation losses weren't horrible efforts, losing a one-goal game to the Rangers at home and another one-goal defeat at Joe Louis Arena to the defending Western Conference champions.

Part of the success has been Oveckhin's stellar start, as his first goal Tuesday really sparked the Capitals' comeback, as they had failed to convert on a 5-on-3 and then fell behind by two as the middle frame moved into the final minutes and were struggling for momentum.

The Caps' star, who had been goalless in two games, still has six goals during the five-game win streak, and retook the NHL lead with 11 thanks to an empty-netter in the final minute of regulation. Semin, who had missed the two-game road trip with an injury, made his presence known with his third-period rifle shot that was the game-winner, giving the stacked top line four goals (and nine total points) on the evening.

Now, the Caps get a busy weekend of teams that have given them some trouble to see if they can extend their win streak further.

Thursday night, the Capitals play the Thrashers for the second time in a week, coming off a 5-4 win that saw Washington narrowly hang onto the lead at the end. However, Atlanta will be without their top goal-scorer, as Ilya Kovalchuk was injured over the weekend and will miss around a month of action for the second-place Thrashers.

Then, Washington returns home to face the Islanders, another team that gave them all they can handle during this win streak, needing to erase a 2-0 deficit in the third period and managing to grab a 3-2 overtime decision at Nassau Coliseum just a couple of days ago. New York, who has just one win so far on the season, has managed to collect a league-high five overtime losses in just 10 games.

Then the busy weekend wraps up with a late Sunday afternoon date with the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team the Caps failed to score on in 120 minutes of play last season thanks to Steve Mason.

But, considering the Capitals still have a long way to go before reaching their peak potential, getting off to a 7-2-2 start has to be very encouraging for the team and its fans.

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