The Washington Capitals have gotten back in the win column the last two games for one reason; they’ve gone back to the basics.
Now, what does that mean exactly?
It means the Capitals have consistently had one or two forwards in front of the opposing net which has resulted in rebound goals or easy tap-ins; just like they were doing when they raced to a franchise best 7-0-0 start to this season.
Washington has scored eight goals in the last two games after combining for that many in their previous five games. They had a 1-3-1 record in those five games by the way.
A concerted effort has been made the last two games to get more traffic in front of the net and the results have come.
John Carlson, Cody Eakin and Nicklas Backstrom’s goals on Monday against the Phoenix Coyotes were all a direct result of net traffic. Both Carlson and Eakin’s goals were deflected in off of Phoenix sticks, but the effort of the other Capitals on the ice to skate to the net put the Coyotes defensemen in shooting lanes which leaves the possibility of a deflection open.
On Wednesday, Jason Chimera scored twice on tap-in’s of passes to the net and Backstrom scored his second goal in as many games on another rebound. Yes, both of Chimera’s goals, especially the overtime winner came from nice passes, but the fact that Chimera positioned himself in front of Winnipeg Jets’ goalie Ondrej Pavelec allowed Brooks Laich and Dennis Wideman the opportunity to make both passes.
There were still a few areas of concern, though. Defensive breakdowns resulted in the Jets first two goals, and Tomas Vokoun overplayed a late third period rush from the Jets that allowed Bryan Little to tie the game at 3 with 7:24 to go.
Vokoun has been shaky lately allowing three or more goals in five of his last seven starts after allowing more than two in just one of his first seven starts. He has also been pulled in two of those seven starts.
Defensive breakdowns can be blamed for several of those outings, mainly Oct. 29 against the Vancouver Canucks, last Thursday against the Jets and Saturday’s 7-1 thumping at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But, the Capitals defense put Vokoun in some tough spots during the 7-0 start and he rose to those challenges. So, just because Vokoun hasn’t received consistent support is no excuse for the amount of goals he’s let in lately.
Intensity has been more apparent the last two games as well. In the losses to the Jets and Leafs, there was an obvious lack of intensity from the Capitals which caused them to not respond after allowing goals.
The last two games have been different, though. Even when they were down 2-0 to the Coyotes on Monday, the Capitals intensity and confidence never wavered which is why they were able to come back and win the game.
On Wednesday, that same intensity allowed the Capitals to respond to each Jets tally, including Little’s that came less than a minute after Mike Knuble’s apparent game clincher was nullified after goaltender interference.
A commitment to doing the little things right has done wonders for the Capitals the last two games. If they keep that up and receive more consistent play from their defense, a return to the top of the NHL standings won’t be hard.
More importantly, success in the spring may come a bit easier.