A repeat of that seems much less likely now.
Washington looks to match a franchise record with its 10th straight victory and continue a torrid scoring pace Sunday afternoon against the Lightning at the Verizon Center.
Coming off two straight Southeast Division titles and a franchise-record 108 points last season, the Capitals (36-12-6) were expected to be among the league’s top teams again and have not disappointed. Washington is all but guaranteed another division title and is challenging Chicago and San Jose for the league’s best record.
Mike Knuble(notes) and Nicklas Backstrom(notes) had three points apiece and Michal Neuvirth(notes) made 35 saves as the Capitals moved within one win of the longest streak in team history, set Jan. 27-Feb. 18, 1984.
Since Ovechkin was named captain Jan. 5, Washington has won 11 of 12 and scored at least four goals in all but one of those games.
“Alex is the best player in the world and Nick’s climbing the ladder. I’ve just been able to find a way to play with these guys and complement them,” said Knuble, who has 11 goals and three assists in his last 12 games. “We’re clicking.”
Washington has won 12 times in January to tie the team record for a month, set in December 1984.
The Capitals, who lead the NHL in goals by a wide margin, have outscored the opposition 44-19 during their nine-game run. They are on pace to become the highest-scoring team since the Pittsburgh Penguins averaged 4.41 goals in 1995-96.
“It’s fun, but it’s also a very businesslike atmosphere in here,” defenseman Jeff Schultz(notes) said. “This is kind of the way we expect ourselves to play each night; we’ll try to keep it rolling as long as we can.”
“I dropped my helmet and I dropped my gloves, so I was ready to fight,” Ovechkin said after the game. “Brads jumped in to fight for me. He did a great job.”
The loss ended the Capitals’ 12-game win streak against the Lightning, who have dropped five straight at the Verizon Center.
Tampa Bay (22-20-11) had its longest win streak of the season stopped at three with a 2-1 shootout loss to Anaheim on Friday night.
“I think it was a pretty good game,” Niittymaki told the Lightning’s official Web site. “I think we’ve been playing pretty well lately, it’s just too bad we only got one point.”
Niittymaki has been very good lately against the Capitals, winning four straight appearances while posting a 1.98 GAA.
Washington will be without star defenseman Mike Green(notes), who was suspended three games for elbowing Panthers forward Michael Frolik(notes) in the head Friday night. Green is the leading scorer among NHL defensemen with 52 points.