As of Monday afternoon, the Capitals had scored more goals per game (4.14) than any team in the NHL. They also had allowed the league’s fewest shots per game (24.1) while owning the second-best power play percentage (31.8 percent).
As a result, the Capitals returned home from their three-game trip to western Canada with a 6-1-0 record and one of only three NHL teams (Montreal and Nashville are the others) with one or fewer regulation loss.
“There’s a positive attitude in the group,” said Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who has four goals and three assists in four games since returning from offseason hip surgery. “It was a hard practice today and that’s what we need after two days off.”
Coming off a road trip in which the Caps outscored their opponents 16-8, Backstrom said there are areas that need addressing.
“We’re scoring a lot and that’s a good sign, but I think we can tighten it up a little bit,” he said, noting a need for better puck management in the neutral zone. “I feel like we’re never satisfied. We want to improve and we want to get better.”
That is something veteran right wing Justin Williams noticed right away about the Capitals.
“What I‘ve learned is that this team has a desire to win,” Williams said. “Everyone has a desire to win but not everybody can actually believe it. We believe it. I like the way we’re trending, albeit seven games in, but I’ve been impressed with just how hard we work and how we want it so bad.”
Still, Capitals coach Barry Trotz is cautious with his praise, saying the Caps still have “lots of holes in our game,” most notably on the defensive side of the puck.
Trotz is pleased, however, with the amount of even-strength goals the Caps are scoring this early in the season. Of the 16 goals they scored on the road trip, 14 were at even-strength and of the 29 goals they’ve scored this season 20 have come 5-on-5, ranking them third in the NHL behind the Rangers, who have played three more games, and Canadiens, who have played two more.
Before Trotz was hired, the Caps ranked tied for 21st in the NHL with 139 goals at 5-on-5. They improved that ranking to 15th last season with 151 goals at 5-on-5.
“That’s an area where we made big strides last year,” Trotz said. “But for us to be in the upper echelon of the NHL you want to be in the top 10 in 5-on-5 (goals) and last year we weren’t. We were maybe in the middle of the pack.
“I think we can still make a big jump there. If we can do that, with our power play, we can really be dangerous.”
With the additions of T.J. Oshie to the top unit and Justin Williams to the second unit, the Capitals now have even more offensive punch than they have in the past three seasons, when they’ve either finished first or tied for first in the NHL on the power play.
“I think you have to be successful on the power play, and not just the power play but on the PK as well,” Backstrom said. “Special teams are so important. That’s something we’ve been really good at the last couple years and it’s something we want to keep getting better at because teams are going to kill differently against us and we have to have new ideas, too.
“I think one minute for each PP unit is enough. It’s always good to switch it up and screw with teams a little bit.”
With eight straight games against conference opponents, beginning with Wednesday night’s Rivalry Night showdown against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps have a chance to put a little distance between themselves and other teams in the Metropolitan Division.
“These points are worth just as much now as they are at the end of the season,” Trotz said. “We were on the back end last year trying to catch everybody. The key is to stay ahead of everybody. If we’re going to get in the playoffs those are four-point games.
"There’s no patting (ourselves) on the back. It’s game seven."