WASHINGTON: For the Washington Capitals, it has been a season of ups and downs. But over the last two weeks, the Capitals have started to round into form under new coach Dale Hunter's system, and over the last four games, the results have been there. Tuesday night, these changes manifested themselves again as Alex Ovechkin recorded his fourth consecutive multi-point game, Nicklas Backstrom had three assists, and Tomas Vokoun made 18 saves as the Caps defeated the Calgary Flames 3-1 inside Verizon Center, Washington's fourth consecutive victory.
"Everybody's buying in to everything, and working very hard," said forward Marcus Johansson, who had two assists. "That's the most important thing, is that no one is taking it easy, everybody's working, working their hardest every night, and that's going to play a big role in this."
The Capitals got off to a blazing start, with Alex Ovechkin converting on a power play just 71 seconds in to the game with a slapshot from the top of the circles, the fourth consecutive home game that the Capitals have scored first in. Not coincidentally, they have won all four. "It's so important," said Hunter. "You see the record when you score first, and to come out, score a power play goal right off the hop...it's a good way to start."
That opening power play strike was also the third consecutive game Ovechkin has scored a goal. "He's working," Hunter said. "Sometimes the puck doesn't go in, sometimes it does, but if you keep working, good things will happen. He's getting rewarded for it right now." Said the Captain, "I just feel very good, you know, about my game," he said. "My shot, and how I control the puck, (on the power play) you can see how my partners find me and it's very important to find open space up there."
Washington continued to carry play through the first twenty minutes, though they could not get another goal past Miikka Kiprusoff. The second period, however, was an entirely different story, at least from the start, as Calgary owned most of the chances and established a good cycle on the Washington defensive corps.
But after a penalty call on Chris Butler gave the Caps another chance to extend their lead, they pounced on it. Troy Brouwer, in front of the net, slammed home a rebound from an Alex Ovechkin point drive to double the lead. "It's kind of scary, playing there with Ovi taking those shots," the winger said. "But Dale told me if I want to play on the power play, that's where I'm going to be. I have a big body, I have to use it."
Calgary would not lie down, however. After Jason Chimera was hauled down in the neutral zone without a call, Jarome Iginla fed Curtis Glencross in front to cut the lead in half with 6:09 left in the period. Washington bent, feeling the heat of the attack, but did not break, and true to form, got the goal right back with another vintage play from Nicklas Backstrom.
Backstrom carried the puck around the goal and fed a cutting Dennis Wideman in front, who pounded home the third tally on a one-timer with 2:59 left in the frame, restoring the two goal advantage and easing pressure on the home side. "Nicky's a great playmaker," said Hunter. "He sees the ice, and you know, you can't teach that. It's just God given ability, even when he can't see him, he just sort of senses people around him." Marcus Johansson added to that sentiment. "He's pretty good. He's got such a good eye for the game. You always find the puck on your stick with him...he's pretty good."
The Flames pushed hard in the final period, including two late power plays, but could not get anything past Vokoun, who made several outstanding saves on odd-man rushes and on the penalty kill to help preserve the win. "Our goalie played unbelievable," said Ovechkin. "He made some great saves and gave us a little breathing room."
And though the Caps have now won four in a row, there is still work to be done. "As a coach, you're never satisfied," said Hunter. "One game at a time here. We won a few, but Tomas still had to make big saves. We have to tighten up even more."
If they do, it could certainly be a very fun spring.
NOTES: Forward Nicklas Backstrom, who was named the game's first star, did not play in the final 3:19 after taking an elbow to the head from Flames winger Rene Bourque. Bourque was assessed a two minute minor for elbowing on the play. "We removed him from the game as a precaution," said Hunter. "He's getting evaluated tonight. We'll know more tomorrow." Backstrom took one more shift after the initial hit...With his goal and assist Tuesday, captain Alex Ovechkin now has four consecutive multi-point games, the first time he has done that since February 4-10, 2010...Mike Green, playing in his first game since November 11th, skated 15:43 and recorded three shots on goal. Said the defenseman, when asked if he is where he wanted to be: "Not even close. (I need to) get the rust out of my game. I'll be back to normal soon, but it will take some time."
Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Caps for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.