Defense fueling the Capitals’ offense

December 9, 2013

Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy scored his first goal of the season on Sunday. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Offense from defensemen is not measured by goal-scoring, Capitals coach Adam Oates says. To him, it’s about making an effective first pass to start a breakout and sustaining pressure in the offensive zone by keeping plays alive.

Oates has recently received those contributions from his defensive corps — contributions which have directly led to scoring.

In Washington’s past three games, four defensemen — Mike Green, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt and Steve Oleksy — have all scored their first goals of the season, and they accounted for half of the team’s 10 goals over that span.

The Capitals’ first two goals in their 4-1 victory against the Rangers on Sunday provided the perfect example of what Oates is looking for.

Oleksy, playing in his first game since Nov. 20 after sitting out as a healthy scratch for seven straight, kept a puck in at the right point and immediately flung it toward the net. The ensuing scramble ended with left wing Jason Chimera giving Washington a 1-0 lead.

Twenty-five seconds later, Oleksy’s long-range wrist shot eluded Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was screened in front, as the Capitals seized momentum.

When asked what has been working for the defense, Oates said: “Quite honestly, just getting the shots through. We’re doing a better job with traffic, but just the decisions with the puck and getting it to the net.”

Washington’s forwards, not necessarily known for making opposing goaltenders’ lives difficult in the crease, are making a concerted effort to do so. Combined with a more calculated approach from the back end, the defense and the Capitals as a whole are reaping the benefits.

“I think we’re being a little bit more patient, not just whipping pucks to the net blindly,” said Schmidt, who has two goals in as many games. “We’re making sure we have guys in front and our forwards have been doing a lot better job getting in front of the net because they’re trusting us to get pucks through.”

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Katie Aberbach · December 9, 2013