Reirden is still learning what he has in the dressing room 22 games into the season, and Saturday, as the team relied on its system and some of the details that have become habits, the late comeback was yet another test passed. After the Capitals suffered their first regulation loss since Oct. 14 by falling, 5-2, to Montreal on Friday, Reirden knew he wanted to challenge his team to respond against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference — and it did.
“Our team believes in what we’re doing. And if we do it long enough, we’re going to get rewarded,” Reirden said. “That’s what we said between periods [Saturday]: Just stay with it.”
It was that kind of buy-in and belief the team has repeatedly emphasized through the first quarter of the season. For Reirden, that has been the difference-maker as Washington (15-3-4) has a league-leading 34 points, including a 10-1-1 record on the road. It was this same belief that showed itself in defining games during the team’s 13-game point streak, including its improbable, 6-5 shootout win at Vancouver in late October after it trailed 5-1 late in the second period.
That belief has extended all the way from the core to the new additions, such as defenseman Radko Gudas, who last week called this group the best team he has been on in his NHL career. Gudas said he expected the winning mentality when coming to Washington but is “still blown away even though I knew what was coming.”
“Getting results, it has been nothing but fun,” Gudas said. “Getting in the buildings and knowing when we are able to get points [after being] down 3-0 or 4-1, you know that we are capable of winning games like that together even though we don’t play our full 60 [minutes], and it’s been a treat to see some of the guys perform and leading the way.”
In Saturday’s win, the Capitals overcame 1-0 and 2-1 deficits and extended their road point streak to nine games (8-0-1), the longest in the NHL this season.
The Capitals have historically done well in bounce-back situations, with the team able to use its emotions as fuel for the following game. But with Washington’s hot streak, it hasn’t had a lot of situations this season where it has had to respond. That changed Saturday, following the home loss to Montreal, with the offense cooling off and struggling to score at even strength.
“I think we are a pretty loose team,” said forward T.J. Oshie, who had the tying goal late in regulation Saturday night. “We like to have fun at the rink every day and mess around, and sometimes when we get a little lackadaisical with the mental side of the game like I think we did [Friday] night, we just find a way to refocus pretty quickly. So since I’ve got here and even before that, this team has done a good job.”
Oshie credited the team’s will and belief in its game with pulling the group ahead. The Capitals weren’t getting frustrated with the high quantity of scoring opportunities not going in Saturday; instead, they stuck to their plan and continued to push.
“You just go back to the bench and look forward to the next shift,” Oshie said. “It was good to see the guys play a very mature game in that way. Obviously [Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak] stood on his head a lot of the time. We just kept on going back to the bench and rolling [lines] and next man up. It was all around a really good, important win for us tonight.”
Washington improved to 3-0-0 in road games where it trailed after the second period, and the team has now gone to overtime in six straight road contests (5-0-1). For the first time in franchise history, the team has won five straight games that have gone at least into overtime. In those five overtime/shootout wins, the Capitals only held a lead entering the third period once.
“There was no cheat in our game. It was a full team effort,” Reirden said of Saturday’s win. “That was a really good two points, because I thought our team deserved it [Saturday]. We deserved it. Other times, we’ve gotten two points when we didn’t deserve it. [Saturday] we did.”
And despite their buy-in, the Capitals aren’t without their flaws and inconsistencies. While they played better defensively Saturday, Reirden said, turnovers and sloppy puck management at times continued to persist. They are still figuring out how to play a full 60 minutes, with center Lars Eller pointing to the team’s 5-2 win against Vegas on Nov. 9 as the closest thing to it.
“You want to kind of look back at the first 20 and say we worked on our game, we built the way that we wanted to play and came together as a group, and I think for the most part we checked the boxes on those,” forward Tom Wilson said.
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