NEW YORK -- When Barry Trotz was hired to coach the Capitals two summers ago, one of the things he kept harping on was his players remaining calm when chaos surrounded them.
A season-and-a-half later, the Capitals are an amazing 21-0-1 when leading after two periods and have outscored opponents 48-31 in third periods.
“I think that’s where we’ve grown as a team the last year and a half,” Trotz said. “We’ve managed the puck a little better.
“We understand the situations, the moments where you need the commitment and the moments where you can’t cheat. I think that’s where our game has grown a lot in the last 18 months.”
As a result of that decision-making and some timely saves by goaltender Braden Holtby, the Caps now sit atop the NHL standings with a 30-7-3 record. It is the fastest the Caps have gotten to 30 wins in their 42-year history.
Against the Islanders, the Caps jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on goals by Jason Chimera and Alex Ovechkin and received big penalty kill blocks from Brooks Laich, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner midway through the second period, setting the stage for Nate Schmidt to put the nail in the coffin with a goal that made it 3-1 heading into the third period.
“Those big blocks are huge,” said Chimera, who now has 12 goals. “And we score shortly after that. Schmitty’s goal is a killer for their team.”
Ovechkin’s goal was his 497th and although Alzner picked up the first assist, Ovechkin said equipment manager Brock Myles deserves a second assist. Seconds before his goal, Ovechkin broke his stick in front of the Capitals bench and was given a new one by Myles without missing stride.
“Good job by Brock giving me a stick right away and I was on the rush,” Ovechkin said.
The Caps allowed just 11 shots in the final period and only a few tested Holtby, who improved to 18-0-2 in his last 20 decisions.
“We’re just playing simple, with the system we need,” Ovechkin said. “We know if we get the lead we don’t have to rush. We just have to play a simple game. We had a bad experience (last weekend against Columbus) and when we do that kind of stuff it cost a game.”
In addition to Holtby’s 34 saves he received 19 blocked shots, including six by Niskanen and five by Dmitry Orlov, who also drew a penalty late in the second period. Holtby is now 26-4-2 and on pace for 53 wins, five more than the NHL record held by future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur.
“One game at a time is the only way you’re going to progress your game at all,” Holtby said. “Our goal is to finish as high as we can in the standings to give us the best opportunity in the playoffs and go from there. Streaks and anything like that really makes zero difference in the end.”
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