By Adam Vingan
One of the many keys to the Washington Capitals’ early success this season has been the balanced scoring throughout the lineup. Entering Thursday’s game with the Edmonton Oilers, 13 different Caps had scored goals. The first two lines – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer, Alexander Semin, Marcus Johansson and Mike Knuble – had 13 goals. The bottom two lines – those forwards not mentioned above – had 10 goals.
Yet, the only goal scorer in Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Oilers came from the blueline. It wasn’t Mike Green, who did not play with a twisted right ankle after his four-point performance in Saturday’s 7-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings. It was Karl Alzner’s first goal of the season that gave Washington an early 1-0 lead, continuing an impressive streak of offensive production from the Caps’ defensive corps.
After Thursday’s game, Washington’s defense has combined for seven goals and 15 assists. Six of the seven defensemen who have dressed this season (Sean Collins failed to register a point in his season debut) have provided those numbers. To put that into perspective, through eight games last season, the Caps’ defense had just one goal and eight assists spread through four players – Green, Jeff Schultz, John Carlson and Tyler Sloan. Washington’s defense has also combined for an impressive plus-24 rating, a vast improvement from a total plus-1 last season through eight games.
Despite such success, two seven-game streaks came to an end Thursday: the Caps’ seven-game winning streak to start the season and Dennis Wideman’s seven-game point streak (Wideman entered the game as the only player in the NHL to register a point in every game). Part of that is because of the absence of Green. Green is the Caps’ go-to player when it comes to starting the breakout and quarterbacking the power play. Without him, Washington struggled to start the rush throughout the game and went 0-for-4 on the power play (ending a five-game streak with a power play goal) on a night when they needed it.
The length of Green’s absence is unknown, but Thursday’s loss presented a double-edged sword. While it was good to see that the defense can produce without Green, not having him in the lineup is definitely detrimental.