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Capitals winning despite poor starts

by John Kreiser
The Washington Capitals lead the NHL with 12 wins -- not surprising for a team that won the Presidents' Trophy last season. Unlike a year ago, however, they're doing it the hard way.

Over the course of the season, teams that score first win about 65 percent of the time. But the Caps are doing it backwards -- they've got 12 victories despite being scored on first 12 times in their 16 games, including Thursday's 6-3 victory against Tampa Bay. Washington is 9-3-0 when allowing the first goal, a pace that history says will be impossible to sustain.

It's a big contrast from last season, when the Capitals were second in the NHL with 52 first goals (Chicago was tops with 56) and had a 38-7-7 record in those games. They won 16 of the 30 games in which they allowed the first goal -- the only team in the NHL with a winning percentage of .500 or better when doing so.

One reason for the Caps' slow starts is their big guns take a while to find the range. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin have combined for all of five first-period points in Washington's first 16 games. For perspective: Semin had 5 points by himself in the last two periods Thursday, and the big three finished with 12.

Can't hang on
-- While the Caps have had problems getting started, the Blackhawks are having difficulties finishing -- a big reason they're off to an 8-9-1 start.

Through the first five weeks of the season, there have been just nine games in which the team leading after two periods has lost in regulation. Three of those nine losses were by the Hawks, including a 2-1 home loss to Edmonton on Sunday in which they led 1-0 after two periods. No other team has more than one. (There were 11 other games in which the trailing team got the game to overtime and won in OT or a shootout.)

The 5-3-0 record when leading after two periods is a huge drop-off for the Hawks, who were among the NHL's best at sealing the deal last season, going 35-1-3 when leading after two periods.

At last
-- It took the St. Louis Blues 43 years, but they finally hung a shutout on the New York Rangers. Sunday's 2-0 victory at Madison Square Garden marked the first time in the clubs' 129 regular-season meetings that the Blues have shut out the Rangers (the New Yorkers have done it to the Blues 10 times, including a 1-0 victory in the teams' first meeting, in November 1967).

It also was the Blues' sixth win in their last seven visits to the Garden -- matching the franchise's total in its previous 56 visits. Despite going 6-0-0-1 in their last seven trips to New York, St. Louis is still 12-44-6-1 all-time in the Big Apple.
The win at the Garden capped a big weekend for the Blues, who also won 2-1 in a shootout at Boston on Saturday. Boston is another place where the Blues are trying to catch up after years of being dominated -- they are 18-35 with nine ties all-time in Boston despite going 7-1 with two ties in their last 10 visits.

Passing the baton -- Derek Boogaard no longer owns the NHL's longest goal drought. The big New York Rangers' forward scored 3:15 into the second period of Tuesday's game against Washington, ending a 234-game goal-less streak that dated to Jan. 7, 2006, when he scored while playing for the Minnesota Wild.

Not only did Boogaard shed the mantle as the owner of the NHL's longest non-scoring streak (Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi, at 167 games is the new leader), but he avoided catching former New Jersey Devil Ken Daneyko for the longest goal drought. Daneyko scored against Vancouver on Feb. 9, 1999, and went 256 games without another goal, until he got one against Buffalo on Oct. 25, 2003.

Leaf shredder -- As a native of the Toronto suburb of Markham, Ont., Steven Stamkos grew up watching the Maple Leafs. Now he's making their life miserable.

Stamkos had a pair of goals Tuesday to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 4-0 victory against the Leafs. It marked the eighth time in his nine games against the Leafs that Stamkos had at least one point against his hometown team, and the fourth in a row that he's had multiple points. In all, he has 6 goals and 13 points against the Leafs.

Isle be darned -- It hasn't been a happy three weeks for the New York Islanders, who enter the weekend with the NHL's longest winless streak (0-8-1) after Thursday's 2-1 shootout loss at San Jose.

Not only have the Isles gone three weeks since their last win -- a 3-2 overtime victory at Tampa Bay on Oct. 21 -- but until Thursday, they hadn't led at any point since getting that overtime winner. P.A. Parenteau's goal at 4:51 of the second period Thursday ended a streak of 546:46 since they last led in regulation. That's their longest stint without a lead since 1972-73, their first NHL season, when the expansion Isles didn't have a lead at any time during a 12-game losing streak from Dec. 27, 1972 through Jan. 16, 1973.

Wednesday's 1-0 loss at Anaheim might have been the most frustrating. The Islanders held the Ducks to one shot on goal in the first period, outshot them 27-14 for the game, earned six power plays to two for the Ducks -- and lost. It was the Isles' sixth consecutive loss in a 1-0 game; the last time New York won by a 1-0 score was Feb. 21, 2008, when they beat Tampa Bay.

No one has more right to be frustrated than goalie Dwayne Roloson, who has allowed two goals or fewer six times -- but won only two of those games, Overall, he's 2-6-1 despite a 2.10 goals-against average.
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