In the NHL the formula for success is pretty simple. On most nights, if you win the special teams battles you win the war.
Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes the Capitals won all three.
“They were 2-for-2 and we had a 5-on-3 and didn’t score,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said after the Caps’ 4-1 win at Verizon Center pushed them to 3-1-0 while dropping the Canes to 1-4-0.
“You know how it is, very rare do you win a hockey game when you have a 5-on-3 and don’t score. They were 2-for-2; we were 0-for-4.”
The Capitals’ two power-play goals came in two varieties. On the first, Nicklas Backstrom positioned himself on the right halfwall and slid T.J. Oshie a pass in the low slot (the Caps call it the diamond) and Oshie one-timed a blast past Cam Ward for his second power-play goal in as many games.
“It’s nice to have him there,” Backstrom said, “He’s got a great shot and the last two games we’ve seen it. If you compare him to (Troy) Brouwer I think he can make plays and he’s more comfortable with the puck. Obviously, he can shoot it and that’s awesome.”
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On the Caps’ second power-play goal, Backstrom fed John Carlson at the point and the defenseman snapped a shot through screens provided by Oshie and Johansson for his second goal of the season and first on the power play. Carlson has five points in his first four games.
The Caps’ power play has scored on five of 13 advantages in the first four games, ranking third in the NHL at 38.5 percent. But coach Barry Trotz said his team’s success on the man advantage is more than just its personnel.
“It’s not as static as it was,” he said. “We have a lot more movement, which is great. The big key on that power play is retrievals. We had a long extended one where we retrieved a lot of pucks after second chances and when you get those penalty killers tired and holes start opening up, those guys are going to finish.”
On the flip side, the Caps were a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill Saturday night and are now 11-for-13 for the season (84.6 percent). Against Carolina defensemen Brooks Orpik (3:33), Matt Niskanen (3:08), Karl Alzner (3:08) and John Carlson (3:02) did most of the heavy lifting on the back end, while T.J. Oshie 2:31, Brooks Laich (2:23), Jason Chimera (2:24) and Justin Williams (2:17) chipped in up front.
The turning point of the night came in the second period when the Caps killed off a 5-on-3 that lasted 38 seconds with the Caps leading 1-0.
“It’s huge,” Trotz said. “There are always times in a game where defensively you have to turn it back in your favor and the guys did a good job all night.
“There was good structure. We’ve got a lot of new people and we have to start with Backy on the draws there. He’s so smart. Guys had good commitment, going down and blocking a shot when it was needed. It was huge.”
And so, after a 3-1-0 homestand to start the season, the Capitals will take their show on the road this week when they visit Calgary on Tuesday, Vancouver on Thursday and Edmonton on Friday, all on CSN. With four games in the book, Trotz offered this assessment on his team:
“I thought we were a little rusty in Game 1 (5-3 win over New Jersey). Game 2 (5-0 loss to San Jose) I didn’t like our game at all; we weren’t up to NHL pace. I loved our response against the Blackhawks (4-1 win) and I thought our response today (4-1 win over Carolina) was good.
“Our first periods, which is something we weren’t strong at last year, have been good. We’re 3-1 going on the road and the biggest positive is we know how important it is to get in the race and stay in the race. We’re finding out a lot about our team.
“When we have a lead I think we’re managing the game way better than at this point last year. Last year we were pretty nervous on the bench most nights early the year and then that sort of went away as the season went along. There’s a calmness on our bench right now, which is good.”
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