The advantages of playing with a lead are not unfamiliar to the Capitals. In fact they tend to succeed when doing so – they are 10-0-0 so far this season when leading after two periods and 7-1-1 on the season when leading after one. But they’ve struggled to establish those advantages recently and have made a habit of spotting opponents handfuls of goals early in games.
Wednesday night in an eventual 4-1 win over the Rangers, though, Washington got back to working from a position of strength. Marcus Johansson’s goal in the first gave them the initial lead and while New York would tie the score at one, the Capitals went on to reestablish the edge.
“We haven’t had many leads at all in the last little bit,” Troy Brouwer said after the contest. “I thought we played really well with the lead: Getting pucks deep, not giving them any opportunities to create things off the rush. Our D had a real good gap tonight, which they’ve been working on in practice, it just helps to turn pucks over at the blueline.”
Goals by Brouwer and Alexander Semin in the second made it 3-1. It’s more than simply a numerical cushion, though, as trailing opponents will take more chances and plays into the Capitals desire to be opportunistic, forcing turnovers and making the safe play rather than trying to force the issue offensively.
“It’s always easier when you have a lead and the other team has to, moreso the other team, has to take a couple chances and bend out of their [system] a little bit,” Jeff Halpern said.
The Capitals didn’t get antsy with the lead and instead kept their choices simple. When the Rangers made mistakes, Washington was in the appropriate position to counter.
As Washington heads into back-to-back contests this weekend, the question remains whether the Capitals can roll that lone example of a strong start and ability to play with the lead into more games with those same characteristics.