WASHINGTON – Adam Oates preached patience.
Undeterred by his team's early-season scoring struggles, the Washington Capitals coach kept his top three forward lines intact, confident that his high-powered offense eventually would get itself out of its slump.
Oates' faith was finally rewarded Monday as the Capitals snapped their three-game losing streak with their best offensive outburst of the season, scoring three unanswered goals on three consecutive shots in a 3:55 span of the second period in a 4-2 victory at Verizon Center against the Edmonton Oilers for their first regulation win of the season.
"The fact that he believes in us and believes us in our ability in here and how our team is constructed shows a lot of his character and what he thinks of our team and our teammates," said right wing Troy Brouwer, one of three Capitals to score their first goals of the season.
Before the floodgates opened, however, Washington had to overcome a slow start that saw it muster a season-low three shots on goal through 20 minutes. More than six minutes had elapsed before the Capitals registered their first shot on goal as the Oilers hemmed them in their own zone through most of the first half of the opening period.
Washington exacerbated those issues with failed breakout attempts, one of which turned into the game's first goal at 9:48.
After a series of sloppy passes led to a turnover, Justin Schultz corralled the loose puck and entered the zone along the right-wing boards, where he found a streaking Boyd Gordon in the slot. Gordon, Washington's first-round draft pick in 2002, fired a low wrist shot that beat Braden Holtby to the blocker side for his team-leading fourth goal of the season.
"I'm taking suggestions right now," Oates joked when asked about what the Capitals can do to get off to better starts. "We addressed it, we talk about it and hopefully we'll conquer it."
Brooks Laich responded less than four minutes later after a heads-up play from Steve Oleksy. The Capitals defenseman intercepted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' clearing attempt and immediately fired it back into the zone, where Laich was waiting alone to squeak a wrist shot through Jason LaBarbera's legs from in tight.
Not only was it Laich's first goal of the season, it was the first goal of the season for which Washington's entire second line of Laich, Brouwer and Mikhail Grabovski was on the ice together.
"I'm not a guy that reads into statistics a whole lot, but I do want to produce," Laich said. "Being able to certainly get the first one, you don't want to let it drag on and drag on where you're still chasing the first one. Once you get the first goal, your mentality switches, 'Now let's go for two.' It's like a home-run hitter sort of thing. When you score goals, you have that mindset you can score again and you're looking and you're hungry."
The Capitals took control of the game midway through the second period as their potent power play awoke from a two-game slump. Joel Ward put Washington ahead to stay at 10:06, converting a backdoor feed from Nicklas Backstrom just as a 4-on-3 power play expired for his first goal. Alex Ovechkin followed at 13:18 with a one-timer from the high slot for his sixth goal of the season.
With Mark Arcobello in the penalty box for high-sticking Tom Wilson, Brouwer finished off a tic-tac-toe passing sequence from Backstrom and Grabovski 43 seconds after Ovechkin's goal to give the Capitals a 4-1 lead.
Will Acton scored his first NHL goal by firing a rebound past Holtby with 1:42 remaining, but the game was out of reach.
"Even going into the second period, we were playing a good, vertical game, getting those pucks up, and then we suddenly decided we were going to take one back in our zone," Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said. "We ended up back in our zone and that turned the momentum for like a three- or four-minute span, and that's all it took."
The Capitals will try to build on this victory when they host the New York Rangers on Wednesday night.
"We feel confidence here," Ovechkin said. "Of course, we was kind of upset about the beginning of the year, how we start the games and we win only one game, but it's a good group of guys here and we just have to stay confident and play our way."
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