The Capitals have played three preseason games, and in all of them, Washington experienced the NHL’s new three-on-three overtime format. Carolina scored on the Capitals 57 seconds into overtime in the preseason opener. The next night at Boston, Washington went down in 12 seconds.

So when the game was tied after regulation in Montreal on Thursday night, Coach Barry Trotz didn’t send out the expected two forwards and one defenseman. Instead he put two defensemen (John Carlson and Taylor Chorney) and one forward (Evgeny Kuznetsov) on the ice as a way to both make a statement and test a theory.

The result wasn’t perfect, as the Capitals didn’t win in overtime, but for the first time, they didn’t lose it either. After a scoreless overtime, the game went to a shootout.  Trotz’s eyes darted from one skilled forward to the next on his bench and figured, “We’ll take our chances in the shootout any time.” There, winger T.J. Oshie found the net on the first shootout strike, three Canadiens failed to score and Washington won, 4-3.

It all validated a conclusion Trotz had come to after the loss to the Bruins: The Capitals hadn’t focused enough on defense in the three-on-three format.

“We’ve gotta get better in the three-on-three, because we have some good people, but everyone has good people,” Trotz said. “I think it’s as much as it is having skill as it’s having the right mindset to do it. When you don’t have the puck, you really have to defend. … The reason we did that is to try to change the mindset, that if you don’t have the puck, you need to defend, and when you have the puck, protect it and do things offensively.

“We’re just trying to get a balance. We’re trying so hard to create offense. I don’t think you need to create offense off of three-on-three. It happens. I mean, it’s just going to happen. That’s probably the thing that I’ve come to realize in a short order here is that you don’t need to create offense, where we were trying to create offense right from the get go. And we were doing it, but you don’t need to. It’s going to happen.”

With a stingy goaltender such as Braden Holtby and an abundance of skilled forwards such as Oshie, one of the best in the league on shootouts, the Capitals are uniquely built to succeed there if the game isn’t resolved in the three-on-three, and maybe a sort of prevent defense to get to a shootout is the best strategy if it’s late in the three-on-three period and fatigue is showing. But Trotz wants to be able to win in the three-on-three, not just try to survive.

“I just think the mindset of three-on-three is that if you don’t have the puck, you have to defend,” Trotz said. “If you have the puck, just don’t give it up and don’t make poor decisions. If you defend well, you’re just going to get chances. That’s just how it works.”