For the Capitals, it's been a new year's revolution
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
While the rest of us were still trying to remember to write "2010" on our correspondence, the Washington Capitals were having the best January since, oh, Barack Obama, circa 2009.
In the first month of the year, the Capitals won 13 of 15 games. Their latest victory -- Sunday's 3-2 win over Tampa Bay at Verizon Center -- was their 10th straight, tying a 26-year-old franchise record. They'll try to break that mark Tuesday night against the Bruins in Boston.
If you're trying to break a franchise record for consecutive wins, you want a coach such as Bruce Boudreau at the helm. Asked Monday how he feels about the streak, Boudreau said, "Sort of numb."
"When you get home and you're sitting by yourself, it's a good feeling," Boudreau said. "Then you come to the rink, and it's like every other day. You complain about the way we're playing and then you slap yourself and say, 'Heck, we've won 10 in a row.'
"So it's a good thing. You gotta believe it's not going to end up being 27 games, but you keep going and trying to win every game and see what happens."
Left wing Tomas Fleischmann said he's enjoying the ride, no slapping necessary.
"We're having fun," Fleischmann said. "We just want to keep this snowball rolling. It's fun, coming to the dressing room, we are smiling all the time, having jokes. It's how we want to keep it. Now we are used to winning, we don't want to lose."
It'll be hard for the Caps to keep up this pace in February. They scored 70 goals in January, exactly twice as many as their opponents. That's an average of 4.67 goals a game, well above their season average of 3.82, which leads the league. During the 10-game streak, they've outscored their opponents 48 goals to 21. They're on pace to score 313 goals this season, which would be the most an NHL team has racked up since the Detroit Red Wings scored 325 in the 1995-96 season.
What is the source of all this offense? After Sunday's victory, Boudreau credited defensive play and penalty-killing. Center Nicklas Backstrom, who scored first for the Caps against Tampa Bay, said he wasn't sure what has prompted all the scoring, but he knows where it's coming from: everywhere.
"I don't know, it's hard to say," said Backstrom, whose 23rd goal surpassed his previous career high -- with 27 games to go. "We have a couple guys out there who can score, and lately all the lines have been scoring. That's the biggest key: Everybody can score, and that's something good for us in the future and for the playoffs."
Alex Ovechkin is one of those guys who can score, as he proved with the game-winner Sunday, which gave him nine goals and 17 assists in January. Since he added the "C" to his jersey Jan. 5, the team has lost just once, although Boudreau calls that a coincidence. Ovechkin was named Monday as one of the league's three stars of the month.
Alexander Semin's numbers are comparable, with 11 goals and 12 assists. He's also playing with more maturity, making fewer turnovers and untimely penalties. Mike Knuble has 11 goals and three assists; Backstrom has eight and nine; Fleischmann three and 12; Mike Green, who'll miss Tuesday night's game as he serves a three-game suspension, has three and 11.
In fact, for the Caps, scoring seems to be viral, like H1N1 or that "Pants on the Ground" song. Even the defensemen are catching the bug. John Erskine's Jan. 26 goal was his first in 109 games. The next night, Shaone Morrison broke a 64-game drought with the winning goal in a victory over Anaheim. When Jeff Schultz scored in Friday night's win over Florida, it was his first goal since Oct. 22, a 42-game span. At this rate, Rod Langway and Scott Stevens might think about coming out of retirement to pad their stats a bit.
Like any virus, this offensive wave will eventually flatten out. But until it does, the Caps would like to ride it to the franchise-record winning streak, and beyond. The longest winning streak in NHL history is 17, set by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins. The timing is interesting: If the Caps keep winning, No. 17 would be the game right before the Olympic break. No. 18 would be 17 days later.
But that's looking too far ahead. For now, the Bruins are the challenge, and one the Caps are not taking lightly.
"It's a tough one in Boston," Fleischmann said. "They are fighting for the playoffs, and I think it's going to be the hardest of the winning streak."
Regardless, the Caps would like to start February by breaking the record they tied in January.
"It's always good to be a part of a record so we're real happy about that," Backstrom said Sunday evening. "We talked about it a little bit. Bruce told us it's always good to make history."