The Washington Capitals used a dynamic offense to make their first playoff appearance in four years last season, while the New Jersey Devils rode one of the NHL’s best defenses to their 11th consecutive postseason.
Early in the 2008-09 season, each club has already re-established its strength.
Washington (3-1-0) was eighth in the NHL with 238 goals last season, making the postseason for the first time since 2003 with its highest point total since 2000-01. The Capitals have picked up where they left off, scoring at least four goals in each of their first four games.
The Capitals were particularly prolific in the third period Thursday, when they scored three goals to cap a comeback from a 3-0 deficit in a 4-3 victory over Pittsburgh.
“We kept pushing and pushing,” Ovechkin said. “Maybe we were sleeping the first two periods, I don’t know, but we weren’t playing our hockey.”
Ovechkin, who led the NHL with 65 goals and 112 points last season, has had his own struggles early in 2008-09. He scored two goals in a win over Chicago last Saturday, but has been held without a point in the other three games. He recorded a point in 10 of his first 11 games last season, totaling eight goals and seven assists in that stretch.
Ovechkin could have a hard time getting on track against the Devils (3-1-0), who ranked fifth in the league with 193 goals allowed last season and have held opponents to six so far in 2008-09.
Brodeur gets much of the credit for New Jersey’s defensive success. He won his second consecutive Vezina Trophy - and fourth overall - by going 44-27-6 with a 2.17 goals-against average and four shutouts last season. The 16-year veteran has gotten off to another good start, going 3-1-0 with a 1.24 GAA.
He recorded his first shutout of the season Thursday, stopping 25 shots in a 1-0 victory over Atlanta. With 97 career shutouts, he’s six shy of tying late Hall of Famer Terry Sawchuk for the all-time record.
“It’s nice to get one so early in the season,” Brodeur said. “You want to win games. The shutouts will come. Every year is different. I just concentrate of winning the next game.”
Brodeur is 32-12-0 with four ties, six shutouts and a 2.11 GAA in 49 career games against the Capitals. He went 2-1-0 with a 2.28 GAA in three games against them last season, when the teams split their four meetings.
Ovechkin had one assist in each game against New Jersey last season, but was held without a goal in the series.
New Jersey winger Brian Rolston, who scored the game’s lone goal Thursday, left midway through the third period after crashing into the boards. He had to be helped off the ice by two teammates, but it turned out to be merely a sprained ankle. Though the diagnosis is encouraging, Rolston’s status for Saturday is uncertain.
“He’s going to be fine,” Devils coach Brent Sutter said. “It’s not as bad as we first thought.”
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