The Washington Capitals have recovered from another tough road trip with three strong performances at home, but despite their efforts they remain a team in pursuit of a winning streak. Almost halfway through the season, the Capitals have not won more than two games in a row.
The Capitals (13-16-7) have established themselves as a team that can compete with anyone at home, where they are 8-4-5, earning points in 13 of the last 14 games. However, eight of their 18 home games have gone to overtime--the most of any team in the NHL--including three straight games. Frequently they work harder and create more scoring chances than their opposition, only to settle for a tie.
With their next four games coming against teams unlikely to make the playoffs, the opportunity for a winning streak might never be better. The hobbling Montreal Canadiens visit MCI Center Tuesday, then the Capitals face the expansion Atlanta Thrashers in three straight games. Washington lost to Montreal, 1-0, earlier this season and pummeled Atlanta, 4-0. The Capitals also could get back to .500 after going 4-7-3 since last reaching that plateau on Nov. 27.
"A winning streak would be huge," goaltender Olaf Kolzig said. "We've got four games coming up that we should win. Montreal plays us tough and plays a good defensive system and that will be a tough game for us, but I still think if we play like we did [Saturday] we can win that game. And we're going to turn that Atlanta series into a little bit of a playoff series and try to take three straight there.
"If we do that we'll be looking at getting 12 points out of 14 that we could have gained [since Christmas], and that's as good as a winning streak. If you look at these last three games, we played Pittsburgh, a good team, St. Louis, one of the best teams in the league, and Chicago, a much improved team. For us to get four out of six points is pretty good, and now we've got the must-wins coming up."
The Capitals struggled right before Christmas, yielding six goals each in losses at Edmonton and Vancouver. In three games since they have limited Chicago, Pittsburgh and St. Louis to a combined five goals. They have held the opposition to three goals or fewer in 12 of the last 13 games at MCI Center. They have held teams to two goals or fewer in seven straight home games. However, the Capitals managed to score just six total goals in their last three games, going 1-0-2, and have scored more than three goals in just one of their last nine home games.
Saturday's 1-1 tie with St. Louis was indicative of their play. They pumped more than 30 shots on goal but ran into a hot goalie, Roman Turek, and failed to capitalize on some key chances.
"We have to be consistent and keep playing this way and we are going to win a lot of hockey games," winger Ulf Dahlen said. "Consistency is the key, and if we keep playing like we did tonight we'll be in good shape."
Coach Ron Wilson, who gave the team a day off yesterday, said he feels their work ethic has never been better, and that he has been pleased with his forwards' work around the net, outmuscling defensemen along the boards, in the corner and behind the net. Turning that effort into more goals and a potential winning streak is the Capitals' goal now.
"I'd like to be able to do that," Wilson said. "We're playing well enough to do it. The team has a great work ethic right now and feels good about themselves. I don't have a problem with our team at all. You want to win and want to score six or seven goals, but that's not the reality of it. As long as we play that hard and are consistent, we'll get our share of wins.
"We can't take anything for granted. If we work like this we're going to win more than we lose and when you're playing teams that are below you [in the standings] and you play like this, then you will win. But if you let up just a tad and the other team works as hard as you, then you're going to lose."