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Capitals looking to take the lead

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 13, 2010; D02

The Washington Capitals' consistent success in the second period this season begs the question of what might be possible if they could establish the same rhythm and flow in the opening 20 minutes.

Fortunately for the Capitals, who have given up the first goal in 12 of 16 games, an early deficit rarely seals the fate of such an offensively talented roster. But the trend of spotting opponents a goal or two is growing a little too familiar for Coach Bruce Boudreau.

"I sure would like to get out of the funk of having the first period where you have to fight from behind all night long," Boudreau said after Washington defeated Tampa Bay 6-3 on Thursday after allowing the first goal. "I mean, it's something we don't really want to do. We'd like to get the lead and be able to put a stranglehold on people, but we haven't had the opportunity to do that."

The Capitals enter Saturday night's game against the struggling Sabres at HSBC Arena - where Buffalo has yet to win a game this year - with a 9-3-0 record when allowing the first goal.

They've been outscored 17-7 in the first period, but it's the response in the second stanza that has mattered most. In the second, the Capitals have tallied a league-high 25 goals to 10 by their foes as the entire team seems to gain traction, with crisper passes, calmer play and a renewed sense of urgency to erase their opponent's edge.

It's far from the normal way that teams often find success in the NHL, where so far this season teams are 159-39-28 when scoring first, a 70 percent success rate. After Thursday's games, the Atlanta Thrashers were the only other team with a winning record (5-4) when trailing first.

"It's good the way we bounce back and our record speaks for itself there," forward Jason Chimera said. "When they score first we know we've got the guns to come back, and every line can score. It's something that we're not scared of, but we don't want it to happen [in] so many games.

"It's not anything to really put a finger on, but it may just be not being mentally ready for the start of play," said Chimera when asked to explain the trend. "As soon as they get one goal it's a wake-up call for us."

As evidenced against the Lightning, when Alexander Semin scored a hat trick and set up another goal in the third period, there's often little opposing teams can do to stop the Capitals' offense when it's creating chances efficiently. Veteran Mike Knuble called the Capitals' ability to mount a resurgence so rapidly a "luxury" that not all teams possess.

So far Washington hasn't run into too many teams that have thwarted that ability, but the Capitals wouldn't complain if they were able to take control at the start of the game. In 2009-10, the Capitals boasted the best record in the NHL when falling behind first, with a 16-8-6 record. But they also scored more goals in the first period (92) than any other squad.

"It almost seems like falling behind makes us mad and gets us going," defenseman Jeff Schultz said. "It kind of gives us motivation to score the next goal as fast as possible and play well to put them on their heels a bit, but logically, our luck and ability for being able to come back is going to run out at some point. We can't always depend on it."

Capitals notes: Rookie center Marcus Johansson will return to the lineup after missing the past nine games with a hip-flexor injury. . . .

Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green are on the NHL's all-star ballot for fan voting, which will determine six players that make the team. . . .

Last year's Vezina Trophy winner, Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller, who missed the Sabres' past six games with a knee injury, is expected to be in net against the Capitals. In 17 career games against Washington, Miller has a 2.56 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.

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