By Adam Vingan
On the surface, the Washington Capitals’ 3-0-0 start to the 2011-12 season is a good one. The Caps have three exciting overtime wins this season, two of which came against divisional foes while the other came against their biggest rival, making it the first time in franchise history that they’ve started the season with three consecutive overtime games.
Yet, overtime could have been avoided in all three games. The Caps held a lead during the third period of last Saturday’s season-opening overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes, Monday’s 6-5 shootout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning and Thursday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, but could not protect any of them. With the lowly Ottawa Senators up next Saturday at Verizon Center, the Caps know that they need to be better and finish games in 60 minutes.
“We’d rather win in the 60 minutes, that’s for sure,” Jason Chimera said after Friday’s practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “You don’t want to go into overtime every game. We’ve got some older guys on the team like [Mike Knuble] – his heart can’t take it anymore. You want to win it as soon as possible. You want to get out there and get done in 60 minutes rather than expending a little more energy than you have to.”
Joking aside, in each game this season, Washington has blown a lead in the third period, with two game-tying goals (Carolina, Pittsburgh) coming within the final four minutes of the period. Against the Hurricanes, Jussi Jokinen tied the game with 1:19 remaining, while James Neal tied the game for the Penguins with 3:45 left. The Caps have also been outshot 36-34 in the third period through three games, including Pittsburgh’s 18-3 advantage Thursday which allowed them to get back in the game.
“Yesterday, we had too many giveaways around the bluelines,” Marcus Johansson said. “The ice wasn’t very good, but it’s not an excuse. We have to play simple when we have the lead and then play with the lead. I think that’s something that we have to try to do. It’s hard. [The Penguins] were coming down hard and they were playing a hard game and then they had their power plays. It’s tough, but it’s something we’ve got to try to do: keep playing simple.”
There might not be a better opportunity to try holding a lead than against the Senators Saturday. Ottawa has scored 10 of its 12 goals this season in the third period, most in the NHL.
“Defensively, we’ve got to do things right, like getting pucks deep is the biggest thing,” Chimers said. “I think when you take care of the puck, that’s the biggest thing that we have to do better.”
Compared to the high-profile opponents that the Caps have faced thus far, the Senators – 1-3-0 on the season – don’t seem to present much of a challenge, but for the Caps to become the team that they want to be, they have to protect leads, no matter the opponent.
“We’re nowhere near as good as we want to be come December, come April,” Bruce Boudreau said. “We’re 3-0, but it could be better and we could be playing better, but no team wants to be the best they’re ever going to be at the beginning of October.”
“A wounded animal is the most dangerous foe,” Boudreau continued in regards to the Senators, who lost 7-1 to the Colorado Avalanche Thursday after allowing seven unanswered goals. “I know it’s a silly saying, but we’ve all watched sports long enough to know that the minute you think you’re going to get a breather is when it comes to bite you and it’s always the case. We know Ottawa’s going to be mad, angry because of the game they played last night. We assume that they’ll be the toughest opponent of the lot. “