It’s so much nicer to evaluate games when you’re winning.
That’s the situation the Capitals find themselves in now after last night’s 3-1 win over Calgary, which extended (to 4) their longest winning streak since they put together 7 at the beginning of the season.
Yes, since that 7-game run, they’ve changed some of their coaching bench. And yes, they’re playing a new system. But Capitals forward Troy Brouwer points out that at the beginning of the year, while the Capitals started off hot and beat those 7 teams, a lot of NHL clubs were still struggling to find their identity.
“At the beginning of the season, it’s tough. Teams are finding themselves. They’re finding how they’re going to play. Sometimes they have new players, new coaches,” Brouwer said. “We were able to come in and put a couple of really good games together.”
The Capitals went through their own identity crisis about a month later than several teams in the league. Now, finally, Brouwer feels the mood prevalent among the Capitals in that 7-game win streak returning.
“We’re getting our mood back that we had at the beginning of the year,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, obviously, to play in those first 7 games.”
When comparing that run of success to the current one, Brouwer talked about how the Capitals are taking care of their defensive zone more now. He also complimented the goalies’ performances over the past four wins.
Last night against the Flames, the Capitals did a lot of things correctly. Brouwer, for example, got traffic in front of the net and was rewarded for the subsequent body beating with a goal (he told reporters after the game that head coach Dale Hunter said if he didn’t get in front of the net, he wouldn’t be on the ice for the man advantage). The Flames had only 19 shots on goal – the fewest the Caps have allowed under Hunter. Playing with 7 defenseman—since Mike Green returned to the lineup Tuesday (no points, one penalty, and even on the plus-minus)—didn’t appear to cause any wrinkles in the Capitals’ plans either. The game included a perfect penalty kill and two power play goals for the Capitals, one coming from Alex Ovechkin.
“We’re just starting to play together as a group. We’re getting excited to play each game –coming to the rink, everyone’s enjoying themselves and having a good time, but at the same time put[ting] in the work,” Ward said, though when asked if the excitement or feeling of playing as a team was lacking before, he said he couldn’t really pinpoint what made the Capitals slide after winning 7 but added that they had needed to “get back to just honest hard work at both ends of the ice.”
Ward – who had five fewer shifts Tuesday but whose average shift length during the game jumped by about 16 seconds—also said Ovechkin’s strong play in the past few games is also helping his teammates.
Ward agreed when asked if winning seems to make the game simpler, or, as he said it, slower. Brouwer had a slightly different twist.
“You make it simpler. When you are winning, things come easier. You’re not forcing things. Maybe in the Columbus game [Dec. 31] when we were coming back, we were trying to force a few plays, but it ended up working because we had some good pressure, no turnovers, stuff like that, “ Brouwer said. “When you’re losing, it’s tough to try and play that simple game. You want to do a little bit more than you maybe should.”