Caps on top, but need work

Caps on top, but need work
October 16, 2011, 5:59 pm
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Theyve scored a power-play goal in every game.

Sixteen players have recorded at least a point.

Every victory has been by one goal.

Theyve blocked 63 shots.

Four games into the season, the Capitals have done enough good things to be the only NHL team without a loss. Enough good things for coach Bruce Boudreau to allow them to kick back on Sunday and watch football.

But if you take a poll around the Capitals locker room, there are concerns about the way the team has played in its 4-0-0 start.

Quicker puck movement. Better forecheck. Better backcheck.

Those are areas, center Nicklas Backstrom said, that need to improve.

Its talking more on the ice, defenseman Roman Hamrlik said. I think communication is one of the biggest things. We need to work on it if we want to get better.

The Caps still have 78 games to iron out some of the wrinkles that have shown up in the early parts of the season.

Alex Ovechkin still needs to work as hard in the defensive zone as he does in the offensive zone. Tomas Vokoun needs to do a better job of controlling rebounds. All six defensemen need to work on their exchanges with their new goaltender.

We always have things to work on, right wing Mike Knuble said. Well be a better team in a month. Im just happy we have room to grow. Were not playing our best hockey in October, but our record looks pretty good.

In truth, there are also plenty of signs that the Caps are on the right track.

Alex Semin, painted as a selfish malcontent by former teammate Matt Bradley, has played inspired two-way hockey on a line with Marcus Johansson and Knuble and has three points in four games.

Troy Brouwer, acquired from Chicago for his grit quotient, has been a force in front of the net and along the boards, creating room for Ovechkin and Backstrom.

The meat and potatoes line of Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera and Joel Ward is a legitimate two-way threat, equally adept at scoring and shutting down opponents top lines.

And the new defense pairings of Hamrlik-Mike Green and Dennis Wideman-Jeff Schultz have reduced the heavy minutes placed on John Carlson and Karl Alzner.

There is also a renewed commitment at practices, where a full complement of players hit the ice Friday morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex after an emotional win in Pittsburgh the night before. That might not have been the case a year ago, when perhaps a dozen players would skate.


It wasnt optional, Ovechkin said with a grin.

Clearly, the Capitals road to the Stanley Cup is a lot like the inner and outer loops of the beltway -- still under construction and months away from completion. But there have been signs of progress.

Guys are paying the price in front of the net, Boudreau said. Thats a sign of a winning team. Were not satisfied, but were happy that some things are getting better day in and day out.