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McPhee demands better effort from East-best Caps

by Dan Rosen
Washington General Manager George McPhee insists he's not being too hard on his first-place team when he says, "We're all happy with our record, but not with the way we're playing."

"We've only played a few complete games," McPhee told, "games where we played three real solid periods."

While there are managers elsewhere (say Newark, Long Island, Edmonton, Toronto) who likely would scoff at McPhee's hard approach with his team -- which has won seven of its last eight games and leads the NHL with 13 wins and 27 points -- you have to understand where McPhee is coming from.

He doesn't want his team to be content with just winning games; he wants his players to understand how you win games now could define what kind of success you have later in the season, when the stakes are much higher.

Washington learned the hard way last season, when it ran away with the Presidents' Trophy only to flop in the playoffs, losing three straight games to Montreal after building a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

"We've been playing recently maybe two good periods out of a game and managing to win, but it's not going to be good enough if we make the playoffs," McPhee said. "You've got to be good from start to finish. There will be points in a game where the other team is on a surge and you have to withstand it, but the surges that develop can't be self-inflicted. You can't let them develop because you're not doing the right thing."

What exactly is McPhee talking about?

Well, the Capitals have surrendered the first goal in a League-high 12 games this season, but they've come back to win nine of them. It's not a trend McPhee or coach Bruce Boudreau would like to see continue.

Washington has scored only 11 goals in the first period, which is 27th in the League. Its combined 50 goals over the second and third periods are the most in the NHL.

However, in the last two games the Caps have outscored the opposition, 4-1, in the first period only to be outscored, 5-1, in the second.

Either way, you can fairly obviously get McPhee's point on why he's happy with the record, but not necessarily with the way the Capitals are playing

"We can play better," McPhee said, "but it's November, so obviously peaking right now is not necessary."

Now let's go around the conference to see what's cooking. The teams are listed in order of where they currently stand:

 Washington Capitals (13-4-1, 27 points)

McPhee told goalie Semyon Varlamov (groin) is going to stay with the AHL Hershey Bears until team doctors are certain he's 100 percent. Varlamov injured his groin in the preseason and aggravated it in the one game he played earlier this season. "Rather than make that mistake again, we'll let him play in Hershey for two, three, four or even five weeks so he can play and make sure his health is right," McPhee said. The Capitals are 7-0-1 in their last eight games.

 Philadelphia Flyers (12-4-2, 26 points)

Seven Flyers have combined to score 18 goals over their current three-game win streak. Mike Richards leads the way with 5 goals over the span, while Danny Briere, Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux each have 3. Scott Hartnell, Nikolai Zherdev and Darroll Powe also have scored. Sergei Bobrovsky has allowed two goals or fewer in 10 of his 14 starts. He has stopped 97 of 101 shots against in the last three games. The Flyers are 9-0-1 in their last 10 games.

 Montreal Canadiens (11-5-1, 23 points)

Carey Price was named last week's NHL First Star, while the Canadiens have won three straight and four of their last five. The vibes coming out of La Belle Province would be even stronger had Andrei Markov not gone down with a season-threatening knee injury during Saturday's 7-2 win against Carolina. The Montreal Gazette is reporting Markov could be out up to three months. The Habs face the Flyers twice and the Western Conference-leading Kings in their next five games.

 New York Rangers (10-7-1, 21 points)

They played one of the most exciting games of the regular season Monday in Pittsburgh and came away with two points. Henrik Lundqvist held the Penguins scoreless through more than 57 minutes before Chris Kunitz and Matt Cooke scored 38 seconds apart. Marc Staal then scored a shorthanded goal with 1:26 left in regulation to tie it and Ryan Callahan scored the overtime winner off a terrific play on a 2-on-1 by Brandon Dubinsky. The Rangers have won three in a row.

 Pittsburgh Penguins (9-8-2, 20 points)

Sidney Crosby won an astounding 25 of 32 faceoffs in Monday's overtime loss to the Rangers. Crosby has won 253 of 441 draws this season for a 57.4-percent success rate. Only Chicago captain Jonathan Toews has won more faceoffs (260). Crosby is on a six-game point streak (6-7-13), and his 28 points have him tied with Steven Stamkos in the Art Ross Trophy scoring race. Marc-Andre Fleury has reclaimed the nets with three good outings in a row.

 Boston Bruins (9-5-1, 19 points)

Tim Thomas was perfect again Monday, this time making 28 saves against the Devils for his League-leading fourth shutout. Thomas' save percentage is a League-best .960 and his goals-against average dipped to 1.31, second behind Columbus' Mathieu Garon, who has started six fewer games than Thomas. The win snapped a two-game losing streak in which the Bruins scored only one goal. They play next at the Rangers on Wednesday.

 Ottawa Senators (9-8-1, 19 points)

After winning four in a row, the Senators have dropped two of their last three. They played with heavy hearts Monday in a 5-1 loss to Philadelphia. The organization is mourning the death of assistant coach Luke Richardson's 14-year-old daughter, Daron, who passed away over the weekend. The Senators returned home after Monday's game so they could attend a Celebration of Life service Wednesday morning for Daron. They will fly to Raleigh later Wednesday and play the Hurricanes that night. "This is an issue that's more important than the game," captain Daniel Alfredsson said.

 Tampa Bay Lightning (8-7-2, 18 points)

Difficult times have hit the Lightning, who arguably were the League's best story through October. They've lost six of seven (1-5-1) and the last three haven't been close (6-3 at Washington, 5-1 at Pittsburgh, 4-1 to Minnesota). Team captain Vincent Lecavalier will miss the next 4-5 weeks after having surgery on his broken hand. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis have combined for 22 goals, but the rest of the team has just 26. Simon Gagne hasn't played since Oct. 21.

 Atlanta Thrashers (7-8-3, 17 points)

The Thrashers are the only team in the NHL that averages more than three goals (3.11) per game but gives up more (3.61). Only Edmonton (4.00) allows more goals per game than the Thrashers. Defense and goaltending are keeping the Thrashers from really taking off. Their offense is thriving, but a combined six goals against Washington and Pittsburgh wasn't enough to pick up a single point, as they surrendered 10.

 Buffalo Sabres (7-9-3, 17 points)

The Sabres climbed four spots in the standings in one week by going 3-0-1 over the last seven days and 4-0-1 in their last five games. Who cares if they needed extra time to cash in on those four wins? The Sabres have beaten Toronto and New Jersey in shootouts and Washington and Vancouver in overtime, only falling in overtime to the Rangers. No doubt the return of Ryan Miller has energized the club -- he's been in the nets for the last two games and has stopped 59 of 64 shots.

 Carolina Hurricanes (8-9-0, 16 points)

The 15 goals allowed in the last two games are the main topic in Raleigh now. The Hurricanes lost at home to the Flyers, 8-1, last Thursday and followed with a similarly awful 7-2 loss in Montreal two nights later. Cam Ward was pulled from both starts; he allowed a combined eight goals on 35 shots in just over 61 minutes. Coach Paul Maurice was disappointed in the effort against the Flyers, and not happy about his team's intelligence in the loss to Montreal. They next host Ottawa on Wednesday.

 Florida Panthers (7-8-0, 14 points)

The Panthers have won three of their last five and four of their last seven, which are signs of improvement. The Panthers, coming off a 5-2 loss to the streaking Flyers, are catching some praise from their GM and coach. According to the Miami Herald, GM Dale Tallon and coach Pete DeBoer are pleased with the way the team is playing despite being under .500 through 15 games. "I'm not as focused on our record as how we're playing," DeBoer told the newspaper. "Most nights, we're playing the right way."

 Toronto Maple Leafs (5-8-3, 13 points)

The Leafs got a win Sunday, and a loss -- Team Blue beat Team White in the 19th annual Toronto Maple Leafs Skills Competition. It was a fun day, but how much it made them forget their current predicament is unknown. The Leafs are winless in eight straight and 11 of their last 12 games (1-8-3). Nazem Kadri failed to register a point in 18:05 of ice time in his highly anticipated season debut Saturday.

 New Jersey Devils (5-11-2, 12 points)

Injuries continue to mount for the struggling Devils. Jamie Langenbrunner has missed the last two games with a sore neck and Matt Taormina hurt his ankle during a 1-on-1 drill in practice over the weekend, so he sat out Monday's game against the Bruins. The Devils at least got their first home win of the season when Ilya Kovalchuk scored in overtime to beat Edmonton last Friday, but they still haven't won back-to-back games. They had a chance Monday, but couldn't put a puck past the Bruins' Tim Thomas.

 New York Islanders (4-10-3, 11 points)

Coach Scott Gordon took the fall for the last-place Islanders when he was reassigned within the organization Monday. Jack Capuano was promoted from AHL Bridgeport and will coach his first NHL game Wednesday against Tampa Bay. GM Garth Snow said the Isles' biggest problem now is confidence. That, he believes, has a lot to do with their 10-game winless streak (0-9-1). The Isles are being outscored 39-16 in 5-on-5 play. John Tavares has 10 points and a minus-12 rating in 14 games.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
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