Capitals still waiting for a dominant team performance

Though Brooks Laich, center, Alex Ovechkin, left, Nicklas Backstrom and the Capitals are 4-1, the team isn't yet happy with it's play this season.
Though Brooks Laich, center, Alex Ovechkin, left, Nicklas Backstrom and the Capitals are 4-1, the team isn't yet happy with it's play this season. (Joe Howell/associated Press)
By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 19, 2010; 12:27 AM

At the start of the season, the Washington Capitals spoke not of becoming a different team, but rather a more focused one. After racing to the Presidents' Trophy but fizzling out in the first round of the playoffs, they wanted to become a group who didn't just claim a victory, but won by dominating an opponent throughout an entire game.

Despite having a 4-1 record through five contests, the Capitals still seek that unwavering performance as they begin a home-and-home set against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday at Verizon Center.

"I told them they're winning on talent, not on the way they're playing," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We'd like them to play a little bit better and we're going to have a tough week. In October, November, December, there are no weak sisters because everybody believes they're in the playoffs; everybody is fighting for it."

Washington's eventual 3-2 overtime win Saturday in Nashville easily qualified as the Capitals' most uneven contest to date, as the Predators dictated the first half of the game and drew several sloppy penalties. Thanks primarily to a stellar showing by goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who stopped 37 of the 39 shots he faced, the Capitals managed to shake off the rough 30 minutes to rally for a victory. Problem is, it was far from the first instance of an unbalanced 60 minutes this season.

There was the forgettable start to the year in Atlanta, where the Thrashers outworked the team that beat them in all six meetings a year ago. Against the Islanders and Senators, Washington got off to relatively slow starts, relinquishing a territorial advantage to both foes at times, and lacked complete chemistry between some of its forward lines. The Capitals' most cohesive performance thus far came with their all-in-one display of grit, scoring, a strong penalty kill and goaltending to defeat New Jersey in the home opener.

While most teams have kinks to work out early in the season, and so far the Capitals' results have been positive, the methods by which they have captured wins - winning in overtime, rallying after slow starts and relying on Neuvirth - are far from ideal for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.

"I guess you can look at it two ways," winger Mike Knuble said. "It's positive to have the ability to do that, and that you can do that when you need to. The negative is: Why are you in that position?"

It's no secret that given the stable of offensive standouts on the roster, the Capitals possess more than a fair number of players who can, as Knuble said, "break games." But they don't want to rely solely on a surge of talent to help snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, either.

Last season, as they finished with a league-best 54-15-13 record, the Capitals were 22-15-10 in games in which they trailed and 8-10-4 when behind entering the third period. Perhaps more notable, though, is that Washington rarely surrendered a loss when it scored first, going 38-7-7 in those contests. In their first five games this year, the Capitals scored first only against Atlanta and Ottawa.

Scoring the first goal "always helps us getting out of the gate," defenseman Jeff Schultz said. "We haven't played a complete game at all. We've kind of come in spurts, and [against Nashville] we were really lucky to eke out a win. We need to get to where we're playing a full game the way we can."

Capitals notes: Boudreau said he believes defenseman Tom Poti (lower-body injury) will be back in the lineup against the Bruins after missing the past three games. . . . Sore after blocking a shot against the Predators, rookie John Carlson left practice early Monday. "We said we're down in numbers right now, so let's not push [Carlson] and wait until tomorrow and see how it feels tomorrow," Boudreau said. . . . Mike Green (upper-body injury) and Matt Bradley (lower-body injury) both skated Monday but did not participate in the full practice and remain day-to-day.

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