Caps' Erskine approaches milestone

Posted on: Monday 11/7/2011 11:11pm By benraby

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – Playing against the Dallas Stars has always been special for Capitals defenseman John Erskine, who was selected by Dallas in the second round (39th overall) of the 1998 NHL draft.

But Tuesday’s meeting with the Stars at Verizon Center could be particularly meaningful for Erskine who is expected to skate in his 400th career NHL game.

“I should have played 400 [games] a long time ago,” Erskine said. “I’ve been through a lot of injuries and healthy scratches, but if I’m in the lineup [Tuesday] facing the first team that drafted me, it will be a good experience.”

Erskine has played just three games this season after undergoing shoulder surgery last May. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound defenseman has been a frequent visitor to the Caps training room since signing with Washington in 2006 but finally stayed healthy last season.

Erskine had a career year in 2010-11, appearing in 73 games and recording four goals and 11 points – all personal bests. He was also rewarded last December with a two-year extension that will keep him in D.C. through the 2012-13 season.

But as Erskine has grown comfortable with his surroundings in Washington, the 31-year-old still appreciates the opportunity provided to him by the Stars to start his professional career more than ten years ago.

“The team was unbelievable to me,” Erskine said. “They brought me up and the older guys like [Mike] Modano and [Derian] Hatcher and [Richard] Matvichuk kind of took me under their wings and helped me along.

“When I played there, the majority of the team was old. They would take guys out for dinner all the time. [Sergei] Zubov would take me out for dinner in training camp, so little things like that would help young guys along the way and it meant a lot.”

Erskine played 107 games for Dallas from 2001-05, before being dealt to the New York Islanders. After a 26-game stint on Long Island, Erskine signed with the Capitals as a free agent, where he has since played 258 games.

Erskine’s status for Tuesday likely rests on the health of Mike Green. Green has missed five straight games and does not appear ready to return. If Green is cleared to play, Erskine could be a healthy scratch.

Catch the Capitals and Stars Tuesday at 7:05. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame on Federal News Radio, 1500AM and online at www.wfed.com.

Backstrom named NHL's Third Star of the Week

Posted on: Monday 11/7/2011 3:10pm By benraby

AP: 16499fe2-b717-4a50-8be6-b07d18636f7d
Washington Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom (19), of Sweden, scores on Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Nov. 4, 2011. Washington won 5-1. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom was named the NHL’s third star of the week, the League announced Monday.

In three games last week, Backstrom had three goals and three assists. He also scored both the game-tying and game-winning goals in the Caps’ 5-4 overtime win over Anaheim last Tuesday.

“I’m scoring points and it feels good,” Backstrom said, “but I think we’ve gotten to another level as a team.”

Coming off a career-low 65 points last season, Backstrom has been instrumental in the Capitals best start in franchise history (a 9-3-0 record through 12 games).

The Caps’ No.1 center leads the team with 18 points (five goals and 13 assists), and is third overall in NHL scoring, behind only Toronto’s Phil Kessel (21 points) and Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux (19 points).

“I haven’t really noticed anything different, except maybe he’s shooting a little more,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said of Backstrom’s game this season.

“But with Nicky, whether he’s scoring or not scoring, he’s such a contributor at both ends of the ice that you’d never know as a coach whether he’s playing a bad game or a good game if you’re just looking at offensive statistics.”

Backstrom credits his quick start to the collective maturation of the team and to his beginning the season healthy.

The 23-year-old suffered a thumb injury last February that sidelined him for five games and slowed him down for the rest of the season.

In nine playoff games last spring, Backstrom was held to just two assists.

 “Obviously you play better when you’re healthy and I was struggling a bit with my thumb,” Backstrom said. “It wasn’t an excuse last year. There were just things that happened that we had to deal with, but obviously I’m feeling better now.”

Backstrom’s 10 power play points this season are also a League-best, and he enters Tuesday’s game against Dallas with four straight multi-point games.

Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding was named the NHL’s first star of the week after going 3-0-0 with a goals-against-average of 0.99 and a .968 save percentage.

Backstrom’s teammate at the 2010 Winter Olympics, Dallas Stars forward Loui Eriksson, was named the NHL’s second star of the week after scoring twice and adding four assists in a pair of Dallas wins.

Catch the Capitals and Stars Tuesday at 7:05. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame on Federal News Radio, 1500AM and online at www.wfed.com.

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Capitals Weekend Roundup

Posted on: Monday 11/7/2011 7:46am

AP: 16499fe2-b717-4a50-8be6-b07d18636f7d
Washington Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom (19), of Sweden, scores on Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Nov. 4, 2011. Washington won 5-1. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Ben Raby, wtop.com

The Capitals have assigned D.J. King to the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears, the club announced Sunday.

King has dressed in only one of Washington's 12 games this season, skating a mere 6:58 in a 2-1 win against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 15.

The 27-year-old appeared in just 16 games last season, and spoke to management late last month regarding his desire to play more.

In response, the Capitals placed King on waivers last Monday but none of the NHL's 29 other teams put in a claim.

"I need to play hockey," King said last week. "If I want to prolong my career in the NHL, I need to play hockey. No one can prolong their career if they're only playing 15 games a year."

With his assignment to Hershey, King should see more game action moving forward, albeit in the AHL. King is set to become a free agent next summer and would probably be best served to showcase his skills somewhere other than at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

King will continue to receive his full $650,000 salary, but his $637,500 cap hit will not count against the Capitals' salary cap while he is playing outside the NHL.

Without King, the Caps active roster now consists of 22 players (13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies), with forward Jay Beagle on injured reserve, and defenseman Tom Poti on long-term IR.

Back to Form for Backstrom:

Don't be surprised to see Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom among the NHL's three stars of the week when the league announces its weekly honorees Monday afternoon.

Coming off a career-low 65 points last season, Backstrom has been instrumental in the Capitals best start in franchise history (a 9-3-0 record through 12 games).

The Caps' No.1 center leads the team with 18 points (five goals and 13 assists), and is third overall in NHL scoring (through Sunday), behind only Toronto's Phil Kessel (21 points) and Philadelphia's Claude Giroux (19 points). Backstrom's ten power play points are also a league best.

"Offensively," head coach Bruce Boudreau says, "he's putting up (numbers) as good as he has before. But whether he scores or whether he doesn't, he's such an integral part (of the team) because he does everything else well."

Backstrom's ten power play points this season are also a league best, and he enters Tuesday's game against Dallas with four straight multi-point games.

In three games last week, Backstrom had three goals and three assists. He also scored both the game-tying and game-winning goals in the Caps' 5-4 overtime win over Anaheim last Tuesday.

Seeing Stars:

The Capitals return home Tuesday for their only meeting of the season against the Dallas Stars. The Stars have missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, but they sit atop the Western Conference at 10-3-0 through the first month of the season.

Dallas began a four-game road trip with a 5-2 win Sunday in Carolina. The Stars' top-line of Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder combined for three goals and eight points.

Sheldon Souray, who spent last season with the Hershey Bears, has four goals and 12 points and is fifth in NHL scoring among defensemen. Souray's plus-10 rating is also a league-best.

The Stars have also benefited from solid play between the pipes, where Kari Lehtonen is an NHL-best 10-1-0, with a 2.14 goals-against-average and .936 save percentage.

Avs Watch 2012:

The Colorado Avalanche fell at home Sunday, 2-1 to the Calgary Flames. Colorado has lost three straight and five of six overall as the Avs drop to 7-6-1 on the year.

The Capitals received Colorado's first round pick in next June's NHL Entry Draft as part of the deal that sent goalie Semyon Varlamov to Denver last summer.

Varlamov is on a personal three-game losing streak, having allowed 12 goals in the three games. The Avs visit the Detroit Red Wings (6-5-1) on Tuesday.

Catch the Capitals and Stars Tuesday at 7:05. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame on Federal News Radio, 1500AM and online at www.wfed.com.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Injured Beagle closer to return

Posted on: Thursday 11/3/2011 1:39pm By benraby

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Capitals forward Jay Beagle plans to skate Friday for the first time since suffering a concussion in an Oct. 13 fight against Pittsburgh’s Arron Asham.

“When you go down like that, it’s kind of scary,” Beagle said Thursday, speaking to reporters for the first time since the injury.

“You don’t want to come back too early and get hit and turn something into a two-month, maybe a [season-long] thing. You don’t know with head injuries.”

Beagle would not go so far as to call his injury a concussion, but the Capitals have been particularly cautious in treating his head injury.

The 26-year-old admits that he was looking forward to practicing with the team the day after the Pittsburgh game before being told that he would have to sit.

“I’ve been feeling great and they’ve just been really holding me back and making sure that this doesn’t turn into something worse… Even the day after, I came to practice and I was like, 'OK let’s practice.’ I was in the meetings, I watched video and then they pulled me aside and said, 'Hey we have to make sure that this doesn’t turn into something a lot worse.’”

The NHL has taken steps regarding concussion protocol and when a player can return from a head injury. Even in Beagle’s case, there is still one more test he must pass Friday before he can skate.

“I’ve never had a concussion that I know of,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They didn’t identify them when I played, but if you feel good you want to get out there. You need somebody, for your own protection, to tell you, 'No, you’re not ready to go yet.’”

In the meantime, Beagle says that he has been lifting weights, riding the bike and working out in the gym. He says he has no lingering symptoms and is hopeful of a return to the lineup by next weekend.

“I think once I get on the ice, I’ll be ready to go hopefully in a week. I like to work hard so once I get out there and as soon as I get back in shape, I’ll be ready to go.”

Beagle has played in just two games this season, registering seven penalty minutes and three shots on goal. Despite the aftermath of his first career NHL fight, Beagle does not plan to shy away from any physicality.

“It won’t change my game at all, that stuff happens," he said. "You get hit in the jaw a certain way and you go down. It won’t change my game or anything. If I have to fight I’ll fight and hopefully that never happens again, but it's hockey.”

Catch the Capitals and Hurricanes tomorrow at 7:05 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame on Federal News Radio, 1500AM and online at www.wfed.com.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Brouwer misses Caps practice

Posted on: Thursday 11/3/2011 1:29pm By benraby

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Troy Brouwer missed his second straight practice Thursday due to an apparent shoulder injury. Brouwer was hit by Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman late in the third period of Washington’s 5-4 overtime win over Anaheim Tuesday at Verizon Center.

Brouwer has been a fixture on the Capitals top line for much of the season along with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Given Brouwer’s absence at practice Thursday, head coach Bruce Boudreau reunited the familiar trio of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Alexander Semin.

“We know that they like playing with each other,” Boudreau said of his three leading scorers in each of the past three seasons. “It’s something when you have injuries, depending on who you play or what your game plan is, sometimes it works.”

Brouwer’s injury could also mean a longer stay with the Caps for rookie Cody Eakin, who made his NHL debut in Tuesday’s win against the Ducks.

Eakin did not look out of place in his first career NHL game, skating 13:19 and registering three shots on goal.

Boudreau had the 20-year-old Eakin skate on a "young guns" line at Thursday’s practice with Marcus Johansson, 21, and Mathieu Perreault, 23.

“There’s not a lot of experience there,” Boudreau joked. “But all over the history of hockey, there have been so called ‘kid lines' -- every team sort of has one and we hadn’t had one before. It just seemed that this was a proper time just to see what the enthusiasm of three young guys could bring to a game.

“They bring a lot of speed and a lot of enthusiasm.”

Injured defenseman Mike Green (ankle) skated lightly for about 30 minutes. Green has missed three straight games and Boudreau said that Green will not play Friday against the Hurricanes.

The Capitals play back-to-back road games this weekend, Friday in Carolina and Saturday on Long Island.

Lines at Thursday’s practice:

Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin

Eakin-Johansson-Perreault

Chimera-Laich-Ward/King

Hendricks-Halpern-Knuble

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Three keys to beating Anaheim

Posted on: Tuesday 11/1/2011 1:34pm By benraby

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – The Capitals return to Verizon Center tonight for their only meeting of the season against the Anaheim Ducks (Caps Pregame at 7:00 on 1500AM & www.wfed.com).

The Caps (7-2-0) were winless on their two-game trip to western Canada, falling in Edmonton Thursday and in Vancouver Saturday. The Ducks (5-5-1) have also lost two straight, dropping back-to-back games over the weekend in Nashville and Columbus.

Anaheim has lost five of six overall and the Ducks are 29th among the NHL’s 30 teams, averaging just 1.91 goals per game. Meanwhile, Washington is a perfect 5-0 on home ice for the first time in franchise history, and the Caps’ 3.78 goals per game are a league best.

With offensive contributions coming from all four lines, and Washington’s power play clicking at 25.7 percent (third-best in the NHL), the Capitals will need to improve their play away from the puck if they hope to return to the win column.

Below are three keys to a win tonight over Anaheim:

Contain Anaheim’s No.1 line of Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan

To fully appreciate the Ducks’ dependency on their No.1 line, consider that Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan have combined for 12 goals this season. The rest of the team has combined for nine.

Widely considered the best trio in the NHL, Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan accounted for nearly 44 percent of Anaheim’s scoring last season, led by Perry’s league-high 50 goals.

“You have to shut them down to give yourself a chance to win,” said Capitals forward Joel Ward, who faced the Ducks in the Western Conference quarterfinals last year while playing with Nashville.

“They’re big guys that can skate well. It’s a quick line, they’re big bodies, so you have to pay close attention to them and obviously just take away their space.”

If Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau tries to match lines with Anaheim’s Randy Carlyle, the task of shutting down the Ducks No. 1 trio will likely fall on Ward and fellow third-liners Matt Hendricks and Brooks Laich.

In two games against the Caps last season, the Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan line combined for four goals and 12 points, highlighted by Getzlaf’s overtime game-winner Dec. 15 in DC.

Perry was named the NHL’s Most Valuable Player last season and is not afraid of high-traffic areas. The Stanley Cup (2007) and Olympic (2010) champion scores the bulk of his goals from close in and his 11 game-winning goals last year were tied for the NHL lead with Alex Ovechkin.

Getzlaf, who also has a Stanley Cup and Olympic championship on his resume, is the playmaker on Anaheim’s top-unit. The 6’4", 221-pound center doesn’t shy away from the physicality either, and finished 19th among forwards last year with 189 hits.

Ryan rounds out the top line with his speed and puck skills. The 24-year-old is the youngest of Anaheim’s leading scorers and is one of only nine players with at least 30 goals in each of the last three seasons.

Stay Disciplined

Going into last Thursday’s road game in Edmonton, the Capitals were the NHL’s least penalized team. The Caps then went out and took a season-high nine minor penalties against the Oilers, leaving themselves shorthanded eight times. Predictably, the Oilers scored two power play goals in their 2-1 win.

Saturday wasn’t much better in Vancouver, where the Canucks converted on two of five power plays in their 7-4 win.

“The thing that really has to get better is our penalty killing, which was really good last year and is really not very good right now,” Boudreau said after Saturday’s loss. “We have to correct that. It’s put us in the hole in both games that we’ve lost. In games that we’ve won, we’ve still allowed (power-play) goals. We shore that up, and a lot of other things take care of themselves.”

The Capitals penalty-killing unit is rated 23rd in the league at 77.1 percent. The Caps finished second in the NHL last season at 85.6 percent.

“We just have to stay out of the box and we won’t have any issues on the PK,” said defenseman Roman Hamrlik. “We can take lessons from the last two games in Edmonton and Vancouver. We’re just not doing the little things that we’re supposed to do… We’re just doing too much running [around] out there.”

The Ducks have struggled with man advantage this season (rated 22nd in the NHL at 13.3 percent), but have the weapons to rebound. Anaheim finished third in power play efficiency last season at 23.5 percent, with the same nucleus as this year.  

Limit Anaheim’s Shots on Goal

The Capitals gave up a season-high 43 shots on goal in Saturday’s 7-4 loss in Vancouver, including 17 shots in the first period alone.

The Ducks, meanwhile, have managed just 20 shots on goal in each of their last two games (with only one goal to show for it).

Anaheim is 27th in the league, averaging 25.6 shots per game. Washington is 25th overall, allowing 32.3 shots per game.

Tomas Vokoun is set to make his ninth straight start for the Capitals, despite Boudreau suggesting that the 35-year-old was not “sharp” in allowing three goals on 17 shots in Saturday’s first period.

Catch tonight’s broadcast as the Capitals take on the Anaheim Ducks. Caps PreGame begins at 7:00 on Federal News Radio, 1500AM & online at www.wfed.com.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Former Caps prospect Gordon returns to D.C.

Posted on: Tuesday 11/1/2011 1:20pm By benraby

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - When the Capitals host the Anaheim Ducks tonight at Verizon Center (Caps Pregame at 7:00 on 1500AM & www.wfed.com), a familiar face will be skating for the opposition.

Former Caps prospect and Hershey Bears forward Andrew Gordon signed a two-year deal with Anaheim in the offseason and will make his D.C. return tonight with the Ducks.

“Coming into training camp, I was hoping to get an opportunity to make the team and start the year with the team,” Gordon told Caps play-by-play voice John Walton this morning. “Once I did that, my next big objective was to stick around for this trip to Washington.”

Tonight will be Gordon’s 12th game of the season, matching his career total with the Caps from limited AHL call-ups spread over the past three years.

Gordon is still living out of an Orange County hotel and says it’s probably still another few months before he can really get comfortable as a full-time NHLer.

“Gordo is a worker,” said Anaheim head coach Randy Carlyle. “The one thing he did, he came into training camp and earned an opportunity. He was our best young player in training camp and maintained that through all of it.”

Gordon was selected by the Capitals in the seventh round of the 2004 entry draft (197th overall), and spent three full seasons with the Hershey Bears from 2008-11.

“I always saw him as someone who had the potential to play in the NHL,” said Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner, teammates with Gordon on back-to-back Calder Cup championship teams in Hershey in 2009 and 2010.

“My second year in Hershey he got to play on the top line in front of the net, just crash and bang and tipping pucks and he was one of the best players in the league. So he fits into a certain role and when he gets into that role he’s a great player.”

Gordon was a top-line scorer with AHL Hershey, but 11 games into his tenure in Anaheim he’s played primarily in a defensive checking role. He has been limited to one assist and a minus-4 rating entering tonight’s game against the Caps.

“The nice thing about him is that he’s also versatile,” Alzner said. “He’s one of the hardest working guys in the league and that’s what you need on your third line. He’s not a fun guy to play against for a defenseman or a forward for that matter, so it’s good to see him being successful.”

Catch tonight’s broadcast as the Capitals take on the Anaheim Ducks. Caps Pregame begins at 7 p.m. on Federal News Radio 1500AM & online at www.wfed.com.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Caps recall Cody Eakin

Posted on: Tuesday 11/1/2011 9:31am

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON -- The Capitals have recalled center Cody Eakin from the American Hockey League Hershey Bears, the club announced this morning.

Eakin was among the final cuts at training camp and has three goals and eight points in his first 10 games with Hershey this season.

The 20 year old was the Capitals third round pick (85th overall) in the 2009 entry draft, but is widely regarded as one of the team's top prospects.

Eakin won a silver medal with Team Canada at the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championships and competed in the 2011 MasterCard Memorial Cup with the Western Hockey League's Kootenay Ice.

"He's got very good quickness," NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire said last year after covering the World Juniors.

"He's as tough as anybody as far willing to sacrifice his body to make plays. He loves to play, he doesn't take shifts off. He's a hustler, he's a guy who's going to buzz around and work all the time."

Catch tonight's broadcast as the Capitals take on the Anaheim Ducks. Caps Pregame begins at 7 p.m. on Federal News Radio, 1500AM & online at www.wfed.com.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Boudreau tweaks forward lines

Posted on: Monday 10/31/2011 11:33am By benraby

Ben Raby, wtop.com

The Capitals had a different look Monday morning as they prepared to face the Anaheim Ducks Tuesday at Verizon Center (pregame coverage begins at 7:00 on 1500AM & www.wfed.com).

Washington is looking to rebound from an 0-2 western Canadian road trip and head coach Bruce Boudreau is hoping that a few changes to three of his forward lines could help.

While the Caps' top line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Brouwer remained intact, Jason Chimera found himself on the second line with Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin.

Matt Hendricks skated on the third line with Brooks Laich and Joel Ward, and Mike Knuble was in unfamiliar territory on the Caps’ fourth line with Jeff Halpern, Mathieu Perreault and D.J. King.

Trios at practice Monday morning:

Ovechkin-Backstrom-Brouwer

Chimera-Johansson-Semin

Hendricks-Laich-Ward

King-Perreault/Halpern-Knuble

Defensively, Mike Green missed his seventh straight practice due to an ankle injury. Jay Beagle (upper body injury) remained sidelined as well.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

The five reasons behind the Caps' 7-0-0 season start

Posted on: Thursday 10/27/2011 10:27am

AP: b8bd1781-4a9f-47d6-898b-7f66ba8b46e7
Pittsburgh Penguins' Tyler Kennedy, right, battles with Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin, of Russia, in the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON -- For the tenth time since Bruce Boudreau was named Capitals head coach in Nov. 2007, the Caps are on a winning streak of at least five games. The Capitals have opened the 2011-12 season with seven straight wins -- the best start in franchise history -- as they now take their perfect record to western Canada with games Thursday in Edmonton and Saturday in Vancouver.

Only five teams in NHL history have won more than seven games to begin a season, with the 1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs and 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres sharing the all-time mark at 10-0-0. Both teams advanced to the conference finals before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup finalists.

In Washington, the Capitals' hot start is being met with cautious optimism as the four-time defending Southeast Division champions have been known to dominate the regular season, only to fall short in the playoffs. But the Caps can be excused if they're beginning to develop a healthy swagger, not so much because of how many games they've won, but more so because of how they're winning them.

Compared to years past, the Capitals are less dependent on two-time league MVP Alex Ovechkin whose three goals and seven points this season leave him on the outside of the NHL's top-30 scorers.

Instead, the Capitals are succeeding with solid goaltending, a healthy crop of defensemen, fast starts from a pair of Swedish centers, depth up front and an improved power play.

Below are five reasons for the Capitals 7-0-0 start:

Tomas Vokoun:

Since backing up Michal Neuvirth in the Caps' season opener and then allowing five goals on 28 shots in a 6-5 shootout win over Tampa Bay, Vokoun has been the Caps' undisputed No. 1 goalie.

Vokoun called his Capitals debut his worst start in five years, but the 35-year-old Czech has rebounded nicely, stopping 164 of 170 shots (.965 save percentage) in the five games since.

With Neuvirth having been sidelined the past five games with a bruised right foot, the timing of Vokoun's strong play could not have been better.

For the season Vokoun is 6-0-0 with a 1.80 goals-against-average and .944 save percentage. He was also named the NHL's third star of the week Monday after wins over Florida, Philadelphia and Detroit.

"He's been unbelievable -- so fun to play in front of," defenseman Mike Green says. "He battles so hard even when guys are in front of him; He's making those extra saves. He's just been outstanding. I don't want to pump him up too much, but it's a pleasure to play in front of."

With Neuvirth healthy again, Boudreau plans to start each of his goalies once on the two-game road trip.

A healthy and deep set of defensemen:

When General Manager George McPhee acquired defenseman Dennis Wideman at last year's Trade Deadline, the idea was that at some point Wideman would join Green and John Carlson to form arguably the NHL's best trio of right-handed puck-moving defensemen.

Injuries though, first to Green (concussion) and then to Wideman (leg hematoma), kept them from ever playing in the same game last season. Seven games into the 2011-12 campaign and the Caps have a better appreciation of what they were missing last spring.

"It's great to have a healthy Mike, he's very sharp with the puck and makes a lot of things happen," Mike Knuble says. "With Wideman, when he arrived last year when (Green) went down, he was tremendous at quarterbacking everything and it was big when he went out of our lineup too. That was a big hole."

Both Green and Wideman have scored overtime game-winning goals this season, with Green matching a career-high four points in Saturday's win over Detroit, and Wideman tying a career-high with a seven-game point streak (two goals, five assists).

"I guess it's more important to say how much we missed him last year," Boudreau says of Wideman, "and nobody realized how much we missed him when he was out."

Washington defensemen have combined for 21 points in seven games and are a combined plus-22 during the winning streak.

Contributions from Swedish centers Backstrom and Johansson:

Both Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson had plenty of incentive to do well at the start of the season and so far both have answered the bell.

Backstrom is coming off a career-low 65 points (including a career-low 22 power play points), and was held to just two assists (and no goals) in nine playoff games last spring.

Through seven games this season, Backstrom is the Caps leading scorer with 10 points (including a team-high 7 points on the power play) and his natural playmaking abilities are a big reason for the Caps improved play with the man advantage.

The sophomore Johansson, 21, was a healthy scratch in the Caps season opener, but has since solidified his position as the Capitals' No. 2 center. Johansson is tied with Jason Chimera for the team lead with four goals, and the Swede's three game-winning goals are a league best.

Depth among forwards:

Nowhere is the Capitals lessened dependency on Ovechkin more evident that in the early season distribution of ice time.

While Ovechkin leads all Caps forwards averaging 18:45 of ice time per game, the Caps captain has never averaged lower than 21:18 in any of his six NHL seasons.

That could change this year given the play of the Capitals third and fourth lines combined with Boudreau's wish to balance his superstars' minutes.

"If you look at the model of Boston winning the cup last year, they used their fourth line an awful lot and their best lines very rarely played 20 minutes," Boudreau says.

"You can go even further if you look at other teams and the balance that they've had and hopefully that model is something that we can guide ourselves with."

In seven games this season, Ovechkin has already skated 18:10 or less four times. In 79 games last season, Ovechkin skated 18:10 or less only ten times.

So, with Ovechkin and the Caps No. 1 line spending more time on the bench, the extra minutes are going primarily to the Caps' third and fourth lines.

The No. 3 line (Chimera-Laich-Ward) has combined for seven goals in as many games while often shutting down the other teams' top scorers. Chimera's four goals are also tied for the team lead.

The fourth line (Hendricks-Perreault-Halpern) has seen a surge in its play with the recent addition of center Mathieu Perreault.

Boudreau singled Perreault out at the end of the preseason as the best player throughout training camp. So far that success has carried over to the regular season as well.

"He's like that energizer bunny," Boudreau said of the 5-foot 10-inch Perreault, who has three goals and five points in five games.

Perreault is also a team-best plus-6, but it's his knack for the net and his ability to score that has made the Capitals fourth line an offensive threat.

"It gives us an offensive aspect that we didn't have before," says Hendricks. "I know (Jeff Halpern) and myself can get him the puck and get open for him. We just go to the net and create room for him and let him do his thing because he's a great offensive threat at any time. It gives us more confidence with the puck and it's been beneficial so far."

An improved power play:

After having the NHL's No. 2 power play in 2008-09 (25.2 percent), and the No.1 power play in 2009-10 (25.2 percent), the Capitals dropped to 16th in the league in 2010-11 (17.5 percent).

The rest the league appeared to have caught on to the Caps power play tendencies, and the Capitals struggled to adjust.

This year the Caps have come out with a different look, using Ovechkin more along the half-wall as opposed to at the point (Green and Wideman now sharing the duties), while placing a greater emphasis on quicker passes and puck movement.

"I think what we're doing is we're moving the puck quick," Green says. "We get (penalty killers) running around and that creates openings and it creates chances. I think in the past we've stood around with the puck, waiting for guys to get open and that doesn't work."

Through seven games, the Caps power play is back in a familiar spot -- rated second in the NHL with a 29.6 percent success rate (only Ottawa at 31.3 percent is better). The Capitals have scored at least one power play goal in six of their seven games this season including in each of the last five.

"They're moving the puck real well," Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said after the Capitals went 2-for-4 on the power play in a 7-1 win over Detroit Saturday.

"They're finding open guys and they have guys that can put the puck in the back of the net, so it's a very dangerous power play."

"Guys are hungry and excited to be on the power play," says Knuble. "The fact is, there's a good competition to get on (the power play) so when you're out there it's not a lay-up that you're going out there again. If you're out there and not doing what we're trying to do, there are a few other guys waiting to play too."

Streaking by the Numbers:

1 - The Caps largest deficit of the season

2 - Number of overtime wins (in addition to a shootout win) during the winning streak

3 - Game-winning goals from Marcus Johansson, tops in the NHL.

4 - Career-high point total matched by Mike Green (2g, 2a) in Saturday's 7-1 win over Detroit

5 - Consecutive games in which the Capitals have recorded at least one power play goal

6 - Number of games won by Tomas Vokoun in as many starts with his new team

7 - Consecutive games in which Dennis Wideman has recorded a point (2G, 5A), tying a career-high.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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