Just three games into the season, the Washington Capitals already are thinking big.
The Capitals will try to match the best start in franchise history Friday when they visit the New York Rangers.
Washington beat the New York Islanders 2-1 on Monday, improving to 3-0 for the first time since 2002-03 - the last season the team made the playoffs. The Capitals have finished in last place in the Southeast Division in the three seasons since then, but the fast start has them thinking those days of mediocrity are behind them.
“The last couple of years was all about playing hard and playing our best, and the outcome will be what it is,” captain Chris Clark said. “Now our outlook is, ‘Win every game.’”
The only time Washington has won its first four games came in 1997-98, when it went on to be swept by Detroit in the Stanley Cup finals. The three previous times the Capitals began a season with three straight wins, they have ended up in the postseason.
“We want to make the playoffs. We want to win,” 22-year-old forward Alexander Ovechkin said. “This is the big difference from last year to this year.”
The Capitals did not post their fourth win last season until their 11th game.
This team has been built around Ovechkin and 37-year-old goalie Olie Kolzig, who has not played for any other team since breaking into the NHL in 1989-90. Ovechkin, who ranked fourth in the league with 46 goals last season, has a goal and two assists through the first three games while Kolzig has stopped 53 of 54 shots in two starts.
Viktor Kozlov, who scored a career-high 25 goals with the Islanders last season before signing with the Capitals in the offseason, has contributed two goals and an assist.
The Capitals also have been strong on defense, allowing just two goals - quite a turnaround from last season when they ranked 26th in the league with a 3.35 goals-against average. Washington has killed off all 12 of its opponents’ power-play chances.
However, Kolzig, who stopped 30 shots against the Islanders, said his team can’t get too excited so early in the season.
“We have to … not get too high, not get too low. Same level. We haven’t won anything yet,” he said. “All we’ve had is a good start.”
To remain undefeated, the Capitals will have to end a five-game losing streak at Madison Square Garden, where they have not won since Jan. 28, 2004. Washington has dropped four of its last five games overall against the Rangers (1-2-0).
New York has lost two straight on the road since winning its season opener at home. The Rangers are coming off Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to the Islanders.
Fedor Tyutin scored the lone goal for the Rangers, who failed to convert on six power-play opportunities and are 0-for-15 with the man advantage this season. Last season, New York converted 18.5 percent on the power play, tying for seventh in the league with Dallas.
“This was probably our best game, but that’s hockey,” said forward Scott Gomez, who is pointless with the Rangers after having 60 points for New Jersey last season. “We’re getting our (power-play) shots, but it’s going to take one going off someone’s back or something.”
New York, which was coming off Saturday’s 2-0 loss in Ottawa, opened a stretch of three games in four days.