Much to like about Capitals' winning streak

Much to like about Capitals' winning streak
March 13, 2011, 8:11 pm
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Sunday, March 13, 2011, 4:10 p.m.

By Ryan OHalloran
Staff writerCSNwashington.com

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A six-pack of observations after the Capitals extended their winning streak to eight games Sunday with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Chicago Blackhawks:

The Capitals surge is made more impressive because theyve done it without Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov.

Plus, Chicago came in playing well (eight wins in 10 games). This wasnt Edmonton or the Islanders or Florida, victims of the Capitals early in the streak.

Although they rarely score first anymore, the Capitals have shown a growing ability to not panic when faced with an early deficit. Theyre 21-16-4 when giving up the first goal.

But its a habit they should try to break.

Has it really been less than a month since the Capitals embarked on a five-game, cross-country road trip? They limped west after losing two miserable home games and were close to being out of the Southeast Division race.

Now they lead the division and are in contention for the Eastern Conferences top seed.

The Capitals re-hit the road for six games with momentum.

Were aware of the schedule and that made the homestand that much more important, center Brooks Laich said.

With 28 saves and a fourth win in seven days, rookie goalie Braden Holtby was the Capitals story of the week. But even though hes playing like a veteran, dont expect him to be in the playoff mix, at least initially.

Bruce Boudreau danced around the topic after the game but hes a Track Record Coach it would be stunning if Holtby started Game 1 of the playoffs. If healthy, the guess is that Varlamov would get the first shot because he does have that playoff experience, including three Game 7 appearances.

Holtby improved to 8-2-2 with the Capitals.

I try not to ask questions and just go about my business, he said.

Asked if he is making a case to be the playoff starter, Holtby said: Thats a hard question to answer based on the fact I have no idea what it takes to play in the playoffs. Ill be ready if called upon and willing to put my heart on the line for the team.

Laich has performed well since being moved to center while Backstrom recovers from a wrist injury. Skating on the third line with Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera, Laich scored one goal, played 18-plus minutes and won seven of eight face-off draws.

Fehr made Laichs goal happen with a blind back-handed pass from the corner.

Eventually, if you keep doing things right, hopefully you get rewarded, Laich said. We got it in deep and Eric wins a battle against a smaller defenseman in Duncan Keith and gets the puck out front.

Since his return from a shoulder injury, Fehr has two goals and one assist in three games. If the Capitals get consistent production from him, it will be a boon come playoff time when secondary scoring is required to make a run.

Newcomers Jason Arnott (five points and getting Alexander Semin going) and Dennis Wideman (played 27:27 Sunday and power play quarterback in Greens absence) have been big impacts since arriving at the trade deadline but Marco Sturm has struggled.

Despite getting double-digit minutes and time on a bunch of different lines, Sturm has no goals, just one assist and 12 shots in seven games with the Capitals. Playing 15 minutes Sunday, he had no shots.

The Capitals power play went 3-for-10 during the three-game homestand and Boudreau has made a great decision in how he deploys his first unit.

Arnott has occasionally replaced Ovechkin at one of the points, which allows the Moscow Dynamo to focus just on offense and roam around looking for shooting lanes. Arnott looks comfortable on the back line and he was at the point when he scored the Capitals second goal.

Boudreau tried Ovechkin on the half wall two years ago in the playoffs, leaving Green and Tom Poti to play the point. Its a perfect role for a tank like Ovechkin because hes strong to win one-on-one battles for the puck.

Contact Ryan at rohalloran@comcastsportsnet.com