Ben Raby, wtop.com
WASHINGTON -- For the tenth time since Bruce Boudreau was named Capitals head coach in Nov. 2007, the Caps are on a winning streak of at least five games. The Capitals have opened the 2011-12 season with seven straight wins -- the best start in franchise history -- as they now take their perfect record to western Canada with games Thursday in Edmonton and Saturday in Vancouver.
Only five teams in NHL history have won more than seven games to begin a season, with the 1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs and 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres sharing the all-time mark at 10-0-0. Both teams advanced to the conference finals before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup finalists.
In Washington, the Capitals' hot start is being met with cautious optimism as the four-time defending Southeast Division champions have been known to dominate the regular season, only to fall short in the playoffs. But the Caps can be excused if they're beginning to develop a healthy swagger, not so much because of how many games they've won, but more so because of how they're winning them.
Compared to years past, the Capitals are less dependent on two-time league MVP Alex Ovechkin whose three goals and seven points this season leave him on the outside of the NHL's top-30 scorers.
Instead, the Capitals are succeeding with solid goaltending, a healthy crop of defensemen, fast starts from a pair of Swedish centers, depth up front and an improved power play.
Below are five reasons for the Capitals 7-0-0 start:
Since backing up Michal Neuvirth in the Caps' season opener and then allowing five goals on 28 shots in a 6-5 shootout win over Tampa Bay, Vokoun has been the Caps' undisputed No. 1 goalie.
Vokoun called his Capitals debut his worst start in five years, but the 35-year-old Czech has rebounded nicely, stopping 164 of 170 shots (.965 save percentage) in the five games since.
With Neuvirth having been sidelined the past five games with a bruised right foot, the timing of Vokoun's strong play could not have been better.
For the season Vokoun is 6-0-0 with a 1.80 goals-against-average and .944 save percentage. He was also named the NHL's third star of the week Monday after wins over Florida, Philadelphia and Detroit.
"He's been unbelievable -- so fun to play in front of," defenseman Mike Green says. "He battles so hard even when guys are in front of him; He's making those extra saves. He's just been outstanding. I don't want to pump him up too much, but it's a pleasure to play in front of."
With Neuvirth healthy again, Boudreau plans to start each of his goalies once on the two-game road trip.
A healthy and deep set of defensemen:
When General Manager George McPhee acquired defenseman Dennis Wideman at last year's Trade Deadline, the idea was that at some point Wideman would join Green and John Carlson to form arguably the NHL's best trio of right-handed puck-moving defensemen.
Injuries though, first to Green (concussion) and then to Wideman (leg hematoma), kept them from ever playing in the same game last season. Seven games into the 2011-12 campaign and the Caps have a better appreciation of what they were missing last spring.
"It's great to have a healthy Mike, he's very sharp with the puck and makes a lot of things happen," Mike Knuble says. "With Wideman, when he arrived last year when (Green) went down, he was tremendous at quarterbacking everything and it was big when he went out of our lineup too. That was a big hole."
Both Green and Wideman have scored overtime game-winning goals this season, with Green matching a career-high four points in Saturday's win over Detroit, and Wideman tying a career-high with a seven-game point streak (two goals, five assists).
"I guess it's more important to say how much we missed him last year," Boudreau says of Wideman, "and nobody realized how much we missed him when he was out."
Washington defensemen have combined for 21 points in seven games and are a combined plus-22 during the winning streak.
Contributions from Swedish centers Backstrom and Johansson:
Both Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson had plenty of incentive to do well at the start of the season and so far both have answered the bell.
Backstrom is coming off a career-low 65 points (including a career-low 22 power play points), and was held to just two assists (and no goals) in nine playoff games last spring.
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