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Capitals are making life miserable for goaltenders

by John Kreiser
The Washington Capitals may not match the offensive numbers piled up by the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. But they're well on their way to becoming the highest-scoring team of the 21st Century -- and, in the process, making life miserable for opposing goaltenders.

The Caps enter Friday's home game against Florida on a tear. They've won eight in a row and 11 of 12 since Alex Ovechkin was named captain. They've scored four or more goals in all but one of those 12 games (the only "blemish" was a 3-2 win against Detroit on Jan. 19).

Washington, with 203 run-of-play goals, is the only team with more than 200 non-shootout goals. No other team has scored more than 180. The Caps' 3.83 goals per game are tops in the NHL by more than half a goal, and they're on pace to score 314 goals this season -- the most by an NHL team since Pittsburgh had 362 in 1995-96.

That year, there was an average of 6.29 goals per game. Through 792 games this season, the average is 5.53.

Even worse for opponents, the Caps are stepping up the pace. They've averaged 4.14 goals while going 22-7 in their past 29 games -- and 5.33 in the dozen games since Ovechkin was given the "C."

Fast starters -- The Caps are also an example of the benefits of starting fast. Alex Ovechkin's goal 36 seconds into Wednesday's 5-1 victory against Anaheim marked the fourth time this season Washington has scored in the game's first minute -- and the 11th time they've scored in the first 60 seconds of a period. In contrast, Washington has yet to surrender a goal in the first minute of any period this season.

Not surprisingly, Ovechkin is a big reason the Caps have scored first in 34 of their 53 games, second in the League to Chicago. He leads the NHL with 11 first goals and has scored his team's first goal of the game 15 times.

Overall, the Caps are third in the NHL with 24 wins when scoring first. Only Chicago (30) and Los Angeles (25) have more.

Power source -- Carolina's Eric Staal is another player who's thrived since being named captain. Staal tied a team record Thursday night by scoring a power-play goal for a fifth-consecutive game in the Hurricanes' 4-1 victory against the Islanders. He matched Cory Stillman's mark, set in 2005-06. It's also the longest streak in the NHL this season.

Regardless of how many men are on the ice, Staal's been on a tear since getting the "C." Thursday's goal was his eighth in five games since assuming the captaincy -- and the 'Canes are 4-1-0 since the change.

House of horrors -- Happily for goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the New York Rangers have made both of its trips to Montreal this season.

Montreal has always been the toughest place for the Rangers to win, and the Bell Centre has turned into Lundqvist's own personal house of horrors during the past few years. He lasted only 26:17 Saturday before being lifted after allowing four goals in the Rangers' 6-0 loss to the Canadiens. In New York's other visit this season, he surrendered all five goals in game that saw a 3-1 lead turn into a 5-4 OT loss.

Lundqvist has started the Rangers' last 18 games in Montreal. But in his past seven appearances at the Bell Centre, Lundqvist has a 4.89 goals-against average and a save percentage of just .841. He's allowed five or more goals in three of his last five games there. It likely would have been four of five games if he hadn't been lifted Saturday. Before being shelled by the Habs, Lundqvist had gone 22 games without allowing more than three goals and had given up two or fewer in 10 straight.

Lundqvist's biggest menace at Montreal this season has been Mike Cammalleri, who had a hat trick in the first meeting and added 2 goals and 2 assists Saturday for 7 points in the two games.

Penguin power -- The Rangers aren't faring any better against Pittsburgh. The Penguins' 4-2 victory Monday against New York at Madison Square Garden was their seventh in a row against the Blueshirts, the longest streak by either team since the Pens entered the NHL in 1967. Pittsburgh has dominated the Rangers completely during the seven games outscoring them 34-14.

Tilted ice? -- Announcers often joke about the ice "being tilted" when one team dominates the other. But the way the shots on goal were distributed at the Nassau Coliseum last Saturday might make you wonder.

There were 50 shots in New Jersey's 4-2 victory against the Islanders, and 41 of them were taken at the same end of the ice. New Jersey outshot the Isles 13-5 in the first period, the Islanders had a 14-1 margin in the second, and the Devils outshot New York 14-3 in the third.

New home, same outcome -- Antero Niittymaki is playing for Tampa Bay instead of Philadelphia this season, but it makes no difference when he faces Atlanta. He beat the Thrashers 2-1 in a shootout on Jan. 23, giving him a 15-0-0 career record against Atlanta. Only Ken Dryden (19-0-0 against Washington), Chris Osgood (17-0-0 against Tampa Bay) and Bob Froese (17-0-0 against Pittsburgh) have had longer winning streaks against one opponent from the start of their careers. Osgood's dominance of the Lightning is the longest among active players.

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