Nick PickingPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
The Capitals are 4-0 to start the 2011-12 season, matching the best start in franchise history. The last time the Caps won four straight at season’s outset was in 1997-98. That edition of the Caps started 4-0 and outscored foes 20-7 in the process. That ’97-98 team went on to win seven of its first eight and remains the only team in franchise history to reach the Stanley Cup finals. It’s October. Teams can’t make the Stanley Cup playoffs in October. But they can lose out on them in October. Two points are two points, and the Caps have scored eight of eight to date. (There is as of yet no extra credit system available for teams to get more than two points a game, but maybe that’s something that can be rectified.) The Caps know they need to get better. They also know that if they were playing as good as they could possibly be playing right now, they’d still have 78 games to play between now and the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Things are a lot different media-wise in these parts than they were 14 years ago. The Caps might be 4-0, but that doesn’t stop folks from asking questions about what’s wrong (three of the wins required overtime or a shootout) with the team, or wondering if there will be greater motivation for Tuesday night’s game because the Caps will be going up against the Florida Panthers and ex-Cap Matt Bradley, who said those mean things about Alexander Semin last summer (and apologized for it today, just before local scribes could poke that dead carcass of a story with a stick). Even the team’s leading scorer isn’t immune. When Nicklas Backstrom scored in the first period of Saturday’s game against Ottawa, it was his first goal in a span of 20 games, including playoffs. Because those 20 games were stretched out over a span that included the end of last season and the beginning of this one, it was nearly seven calendar months between goals for Backstrom. That’s not Backstrom’s fault. If there were games to be played in June, July, August and ones that counted toward his “hockey card” stats in September, he certainly would have played in them if healthy. And he probably would have scored in one or more of them, too. (He did score in a September pre-season game, actually.) After Saturday’s game, Backstrom was reminded that he hadn’t scored in seven months and asked how it felt. To which he responded, “Unbelievable.” The “fact” that Backstrom had gone seven months without a goal has been repeated in written form here and there since. But here’s what’s kind of interesting. (Well, to me at least.) Backstrom has now had three streaks where he has gone 20 or more games without a goal during his NHL career. And I just checked the post-game interviews after the games in which Backstrom ended that drought of 20 or more games the first two times. And no one asked about how it felt or if he was happy he scored, or anything of that nature. Probably because those droughts were contained within the same season, and didn’t have the whole seven-month factor working for them. I can’t remember whether anyone asked Backstrom how it felt after the game in which he scored during the pre-season, but shouldn’t that be the one that elicited the question? Again, he could score in June, July or August. He could score in September. And did. Backstrom’s forte of course, is setting up his linemates. And during the life of those streaks where he didn’t score goals, he kept setting up his linemates. During a 20-game run without a goal in his rookie season of 2007-08, Backstrom had 20 assists in those 20 games. During a 21-game dry spell in the middle of the 2010-11 season, he had a dozen assists. He had 14 helpers during the 20-game drought that just ended. On the plus side for Backstrom, he hasn’t thrown any interceptions in the last seven months, either. So he’s got that going for him. Which is nice. Tough town.
Tonight the Caps take aim on a franchise mark, seeking to become the first Capitals team to start the season with a 5-0 record. The Florida Panthers stand in their way; the Cats’ own 3-1 start is their best since they opened the 2005-06 season with a 3-1 log. For the third time in five games, the