With 41 wins through their first 55 games the Capitals are on a record-setting pace this season. A big reason has been their ability to grind teams to salt over the course of a 60-minute hockey game.
“I think we’re a hard team to hang with, to be honest,” Capitals left wing Brooks Laich said. “Some teams can hang with us for 30 minutes or 40 minutes, but I find our team his hard to hang with for the full 60.”
The numbers prove it.
The Caps have outscored their opponents by six goals in the first period, 23 goals in the second period and 27 goals in the third period. The only NHL teams evenly remotely close to that third-period dominance are the fleet-footed Dallas Stars, who are a plus-18 in third periods, and the hard-hitting Islanders, who are a plus-17.
As a result of those numbers, the Caps are an NHL-leading 31-0-1 when leading after two periods this season and 66-2-4 in two seasons under Barry Trotz. And when the Caps hold a lead with less than 10 minutes remaining in regulation under Trotz, they are 58-1-4.
“Maybe it’s from learning the hard way from those couple years we didn’t have success when leading,” Laich said, referring to the Caps being outscored by 15 goals in third periods two seasons ago under Adam Oates. “It’s attention to detail and playing the clock and game management.”
It’s also rolling four lines that can inflict their speed, strength and size every shift. That was certainly the case in Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over the Kings, when the Caps outshot Los Angeles 12-9 and outscored them 2-0 in the final 20 minutes after being outshot 31-20 in the first two periods.
“We said on the bench we were getting stronger,” said Caps right wing Justin Williams, who set up Evgeny Kuznetsov for the game-winner with 2:02 to play, “and they were fading a bit.”
“Teams really pour it on and I think a lot of the good players in the league come out in the third period,” Caps right wing T.J. Oshie said. “We’ve got a lot of those good players in here.
“When the game’s on the line we’ve got a lot of guys that are making the right decisions when we’re up goals. And when we’re down goals we’ve got guys making the right reads, where they can jump up and get opportunities.”
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who will get the start tonight against the Islanders in Brooklyn (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN), said the Caps have also learned to go for the kill instead of collapsing into a defensive mode.
“We’re not focused on just shutting down in the third and just having zero goals on each side,” he said. “We’re continuing to push. We’ve given up a few more goals than we’d like to, but at the same time that’s because we’re still playing our game and our offense is still coming in the third period even with a lead.”
Laich used the terms “tilting the ice” and “shrink the rink,” saying the Caps’ ability to hem teams in their own zone for successive shifts takes away their opponents’ legs and ultimately, their will.
“We’re getting those shifts where we’re in their zone for two minutes at a time,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said, “and that makes a difference.”
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