The Washington Capitals are off to a fine start this season with stellar goaltending, timely scoring and tenacious defense.
Going into tonight's game against the Stars in Dallas, the Caps' goaltending tandem of Jim Carey and Olie Kolzig is ranked second in the league. Carey's record is 3-0 with a 0.67 goals-against average, second only to the Detroit Red Wings' Chris Osgood, who has a 0.50 GAA in two games.
"There are times when things go well and when they don't go well," said Carey, last year's rookie sensation. "There have been a lot of goalies who have had one big year and then gone away. But I have confidence in my ability to stay on top of my game,
and if I stay there I'll quiet people's doubts.
"I've been doing this for 16 years now . . . what you see is what you get. There is nothing mysterious about it. I just go out and play and hope for the best."
Carey and Kolzig and a swarming defense have helped Washington, 3-1, to the second-best start in its 22-year history.
The Caps' penalty-killing unit has allowed just three goals on 28 chances, for an 89.3 percent success rate. The overall defense, including big efforts by the forwards, has held opposing teams ++ to averages of one goal and 22 shots.
"You have to dig down," said Caps center Joe Juneau. "It's the type of team we have. Goals are so hard to get, you have to appreciate every one and you just can't give anything defensively. Our forwards simply have to come back and help. We're just doing a great job at it.
"We're only giving up 22 shots a game. If we can keep it down like that, we'll be fine because the goalie sees maybe five very tough shots out of 20 or so and making those saves is tremendous. If he doesn't make them, well, it's a different game . . . but all of us help each other and that makes it easier for everyone."
Juneau said the system the Caps are using is the same one the Canadian Olympic team used in 1992, when it played and won seven pre-Olympic games against NHL teams.
"Obviously, we didn't have the talent of NHL teams," he said. "But we won because of the system. It's complicated, something to be diagrammed on paper. But it's a kind-of trap. If you do it well, you don't give many chances and you force the other team into risky plays."
Like the Canadian Olympic team, the Caps' ability also has been suspect, especially with the absence of scoring star Peter Bondra and his line mate, Michal Pivonka, who are without contracts.
So far, opponents can attest, the Caps' system has leveled the ice.
After the Caps beat St. Louis, 4-1, Blues assistant coach Roger Neilson talked about the Washington forechecking. Colorado Avalanche coach Marc Crawford talked about the frustration of being bottled up in the neutral zone and the way the Caps cleared his forwards from in front of the net after his team lost, 3-1.
And after the Caps defeated Tampa Bay, 2-0, Lightning wing Brian Bellows noted, "They try to force you to make the mistakes, and even when you don't, even when we got a shot off, their goalie was there to make the save."
Opponent: Dallas Stars
Site: Reunion Arena, Dallas
TV/Radio: Ch. 50/WTEM (570 AM), WWLG (1360 AM)
Outlook: The Stars (2-2) evened their record Saturday night with an amazing comeback against Boston, as Dallas' Kevin Hatcher, Mike Modano and Guy Carbonneau scored three goals in 44 seconds for a 6-5 victory. Hatcher, the former Caps defenseman and team captain, leads the Stars in points with six (four goals, two assists). The Stars have not announced their goalie for tonight and will chose between Andy Moog (1-2, 4.69 goals-against average) and Darcy Wakaluk (1-0, 3.00). Wakaluk is 3-0-0 vs. Washington with a 2.33 GAA. The Caps (3-1) have won two straight and are off to the second-best start in team history. The Caps will have Jim Carey (3-0, 0.67) or Olie Kolzig (0-1, 2.00) in goal. Washington is without LW Craig Berube (broken jaw) and LW Steve Konowalchuk (separated shoulder). Dallas C Bob Bassen (knee) is out.