A coaching change and some new faces appear to be helping the Washington Capitals as they attempt to turn around a dismal start to the season.
The Capitals look to improve to 3-0 on their four-game homestand Wednesday night when they host the New York Rangers for the first time this season.
Washington (11-17-2), holder of the fewest points in the NHL, opened 2007-08 with three consecutive wins before enduring a 3-14-1 stretch - including 1-7-0 at home - that cost coach Glen Hanlon his job.
The Capitals promoted Bruce Boudreau from the AHL’s Hershey Bears and the team has responded by going 5-3-1, including Monday’s 3-2 win over Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey. Washington got goals from Nicklas Backstrom, Jeff Schultz and Quintin Laing, who scored his first NHL goal.
Boudreau coached Schultz and Laing at Hershey, and he’s excited the 28-year-old Laing is finally getting his chance. The left wing has played only eight games in the NHL - five with Washington and three for Chicago in 2004.
“That’s a guy who’s toiled for most of his life (in) the low minors. To score the winning goal in an important game for us, that’s a really cool thing,” Boudreau said.
Schultz, 21, has scored in consecutive games after finding the back of the net only once in his first 21 contests. The defenseman had no goals and three assists in 38 games as a rookie last season.
Backstrom, the fourth-overall selection in the 2006 draft, has two goals and five points in the last three games to give him 10 points in the nine contests since the coaching change. The 20-year-old rookie struggled through the first 21 games of the season, netting one goal with eight assists.
He had a goal and two assists in a 6-3 win over Atlanta on Saturday to open the homestand, which concludes Friday against Buffalo.
Washington is also getting outstanding play from Alexander Ovechkin, who has four goals and five assists in the last five games. He ranks among the league leaders with 21 goals and 36 points.
The All-Star left wing has five goals and four assists in 10 career games against the Rangers (16-12-2), but has just two goals in the last four meetings - all losses. He came up empty on six shots on Nov. 1 in a 2-0 defeat at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers, meanwhile, are coming off a 1-0 overtime win against the Devils on Sunday. Brendan Shanahan scored on the first shot of the extra session as New York snapped its three-game slide and ended New Jersey’s nine-game winning streak.
New York is second in the Atlantic, one point back of the Devils.
Shanahan, who has a team-leading 10 goals, has been a key factor in New York’s success this season, getting eight goals and 15 of his 20 points in wins. He has an assist in each of the Rangers’ two victories over Washington this season.
The Rangers hope Henrik Lundqvist can build on his shutout against New Jersey after uncharacteristically allowing eight goals on 39 shots in the previous two games. He was pulled for the first time this season on Thursday, giving up four goals on 10 shots in two periods of a 6-2 loss to Toronto.
Lundqvist, who is among the league leaders with a 1.94 goals-against average, is 7-2-0 with a 2.26 GAA in nine career games against the Capitals, including a 31-save performance on Nov. 1. He hasn’t fared as well at the Verizon Center, going 1-2-0 with a 3.59 GAA.