The Washington Capitals seem to be coming to grips with the fact they’re not the offensive juggernaut the league is used to seeing.
If it makes a difference once the postseason rolls around, they’ll be happy to embrace it.
The now-opportunistic Capitals are getting used to winning low-scoring affairs heading into Saturday night’s road game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are trying to turn around their own reputation as a team devoid of defense.
Washington (26-14-8) scored 313 goals last season, the most by any team since 1995-96, but all that added up to was a first-round flameout for coach Bruce Boudreau’s club.
The Capitals are a stunning 29th in goals per game since Dec. 1, averaging 2.13. But they’re getting used to winning without Alex Ovechkin(notes) and Nicklas Backstrom(notes) piloting a team that rarely slows down offensively.
Washington was 7-12-2 when scoring three goals or fewer through Dec. 18, but since then, the team is 7-2-4 in those games after Thursday’s 2-1 win over the New York Islanders.
“We’re not scoring, so we’d better be aware of the defensive end,” Boudreau said.
It’s been 12 games since the Caps have scored more than three, but Boudreau doesn’t see a prolonged drought as the worst thing for a club that hasn’t seen its high-scoring tendencies translate into postseason success.
“Eventually they will start scoring again at the rate they are capable,” he said. “If they learn to play defense and then they get the balance with the offense, our team will be in good shape.”
Much of Washington’s offensive drought can be attributed to the struggles of Backstrom, who had gone 21 games without a goal before scoring the game-winner in the second period Thursday off an assist from Ovechkin. Backstrom had 33 goals in 2009-10 and 11 through his first 26 games this season.
Backstrom has never done much offensively versus Toronto (19-22-5), posting two goals in 14 career games. He does, however, have 11 assists.
Ovechkin has only four goals in his last 19 games overall, but he has an eight-game point streak against the Maple Leafs which includes eight goals and 11 assists.
Washington hasn’t had much trouble scoring versus Toronto this season - the teams have split a pair of shootouts - and the Leafs are giving up 3.26 goals per game since the start of December, fifth-worst in the league.
Ovechkin had two assists in a 5-4 win Nov. 3 and a goal in a 5-4 loss Dec. 6, when the Caps blew a three-goal lead in the third period.
That disheartening defeat was part of an eight-game losing streak for Washington that also included a 7-0 defeat at Madison Square Garden, where the Maple Leafs had their own rock-bottom moment Wednesday.
But Toronto responded impressively from that 7-0 loss to the Rangers, returning home the following night and scoring the game’s final four goals in a 5-2 victory over Anaheim.
“Tonight we played with pride,” said forward Clarke MacArthur(notes), who had a goal and two assists. “It’s hard to sleep after a game like that (in New York). We all have better in here. It’s not fair to the goalies, it’s not fair to anybody to come out and leave guys hung out to dry like we did.”
MacArthur scored twice in the comeback victory in the nation’s capital last month, including the game-tying goal with 1:24 left.
The Capitals’ defense hasn’t been soft in the third period lately, though. Washington is outscoring opponents 11-2 in the final 20 minutes of its last 10 games.
The Caps could be getting healthy as well. Forwards Matt Bradley(notes) and Alexander Semin(notes) and goaltender Michal Neuvirth(notes) practiced Friday, though it’s unclear if any of them will return Saturday.