ARLINGTON — Over the past five games, the Capitals have gotten three goals from defensemen — two off the stick of Matt Niskanen and another from John Carlson.
And while that represents solid progress for a team that got virtually no goal production from its blue line over the first two months of the season, the Caps could use a few more in their ongoing search for goals.
Through the season’s first 30 games, Washington’s blue line has scored six goals for an offense that ranks 14th in goals per game (2.67).
The same group of players had 15 goals at this point last season.
“I don’t know if we’ll be able to catch up — we’re a third into the season,” coach Barry Trotz said after practice on Monday.
“But it’s starting to come on the backend a little more. Early, we had virtually nothing back there. ...Guys are behind last year’s production.”
Trotz added, “Your third and fourth [forward] lines being able to chip in [helps secondary scoring]. Your blue line isn’t considered a line, but they are very important for your offense.”
Indeed, nine of the top 10 teams in goals scored per game this season have received at least two times as many goals from their blue line as the Capitals.
Among those teams, the Flyers lead the pack with 21 and are closely followed by the Canadiens and Predators, who have 19 apiece.
In Montreal’s 2-1 win Saturday night at Verizon Center, the game-winner was scored by defenseman Jeff Petry, who joined the rush and finished a pass from Max Pacioretty. The goal was Petry’s 6th of the season. For comparison’s sake, Niskanen and Karl Alzner lead the Caps with two goals apiece.
Carlson says he doesn’t believe much has changed in the D’s approach year-over-year. But he did acknowledge that it’s something the Caps have discussed recently.
“Lately we’ve talked about different ways to screen the goalie, different ways to improve our shooting from the point,” Carlson said. “The chances are there, they’re just not going in. But I think it’s picking up. We’ve seen a lot more grade-A scoring chances from the point. We’ve done a better job of going to the net and taking the goalie’s eyes away. So let’s see if that changes.”
Carlson also hopes that the recent upturn in the Caps’ power play will lead to more goals from the defense. His only goal, in fact, came on the man advantage against the Sabres five games ago.
“As a defenseman, you get your best chances to score on the power play,” he said. “Our power play is picking up now. …[The slump] is not from a lack of effort or trying. All of us pride ourselves on how hard we work. Some guys go out [to practice] early. Some guys stay really late. When you do stuff like that, good stuff will happen. And that’s what we’re hoping for.”
Nate Schmidt was a little more blunt. He said the blue line has to step up in the goal scoring department if the Caps are going to reach their full potential this season.
“I think our group expects a little more out of ourselves, myself included,” said Schmidt, who hasn’t scored a goal since Jan. 7, a span of 63 regular season games.
“We’re used to a little more from our backend. I think for us to be hitting on all cylinders, that’s a part of our game that needs to increase.”
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