Aside from the 7-0 start, this season has been a struggle of consistency for thew Washington Capitals. A struggle that cost former head coach Bruce Boudreau his job. A struggle not seen at the Verizon Center since before the Boudreau era really got underway. There has even been recent talk about whether this Capitals team would even be a playoff contender in 2011/12. A parallel twist is Alexander Ovechkin. His struggles seem to coincide with the Caps struggles.
However, as we are witnessing, that when Alex Ovechkin heats up, so do the Washington Capitals. The Caps 3-1 win over Calgary last night at the Verizon Center marked their fourth consecutive win, a win that picked up two points on the Southeast leading Florida Panthers. Suddenly, the Caps find themselves in second place just three points away from retaking the division lead. Funny what four games can do. The Capitals also moved up into seventh place o0verall in the Eastern Conference. Additionally, the Capitals are experiencing a surging Ovechkin, having added a marker last night, his third straight game with a goal, 5 goals in his last 3 games. Overall, Ovechkin extended his point streak to 7 straight games in which has has tallied 7 goals and 4 assists. Look at the NHL league leaders, just a week and half ago, Ovechkin was not even an afterthought. Now, Ovechkin sits just 10 goals behind Steven Stamkos, who leads the NHL with 27 goals.
The Capitals have picked up Dale Hunter's defensive system quite well, lowering their team Goals against average markedly. Signs are good that the offensive system change is starting to take effect. Washington now has an opportunity, with a two game west coast swing beginning on Saturday in San Jose, to prove they can also add wins to the record on the road. During the four game winning streak, 3 of the 4 wins came at the Verizon Center. The Caps boast one of the NHL's best home records, sitting at 14-5-1. However, they have struggled abroad, posting a 7-10-1 record. On this two game west coast swing, the Caps face the Sharks and Kings.
What has also fueled the recent Caps surge has been some incredible consistent goal tending by Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun had some struggled earlier int he season, but appears to have set himself into a very nice groove for the Capitals. Vokoun has started each of the four games and is riding a four game winning streak. During this stretch of four, Vokoun has yielded just 1 goal in three of the four games, only 2 goals against Columbus, in the Caps 4-2 comeback win on New Years Eve. Vokoun has stopped a whopping 109 of 114 shots during the winning streak for a nifty .956 save percentage. Overall, Vokoun has improved to an impressive 16-8 with a .915 save percentage and a GAA of 2.51. Once looking like an Achilles Heel to Washington, goal tending has suddenly become a strong fo0cal point of the Caps, which was expected in the beginning of the season.
* Washington improved their record to 9-0 when D Mike Green is on ice. Green made his return to the ice last night after missing 23 consecutive games with a groin strain. The Caps carried 7 defenseman so they could work Green back into the system slowly. Green tallied 15:43 of ice time and had two block shots and three hits.
* In a bit of bad news for the Capitals, leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom was injured last night by an elbow from Calgary's Rene Bourque. Bourque faces a discipline hearing today over the hit. No word on the seriousness of Backstrom's injury. Prior to the injury, Backstrom was having another banner evening, tallying 3 assists.
* Alexander Semin did not play last night. The Caps listed him day to day for 'neck pain".
* Dennis Wideman led the Caps in ice time last night, logging 24:35 followed by Brooks Laich who logged 21:56.
* Alex Ovechkin extended his points streak to SEVEN straight games and his goal streak to THREE straight games.
* Nicklas Backstrom extended his point streak to FIVE straight games in which he has tallied 7 assists. Backstrom is tied for 8th overall in points on the season, tallying 42 total points, just four points behind NHL leader Henrik Sedin.