When the season began, the Washington Capitals were expected to showcase improved secondary scoring thanks to a lineup that featured three quality lines.
So far, the Caps are getting plenty of offense from their top nine forwards - but the players leading the way are a surprise.
Alexander Semin's ascension to the top of the NHL's scoring list to help offset missing production from Alex Ovechkin has been widely chronicled, but the offensive output from Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann and Sergei Fedorov helped mask similar slow starts by Nicklas Backstrom, Chris Clark and Viktor Kozlov.
"It is usually what happens - like when one door closes, another one opens," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "When somebody's not going, another guy picks it up. Those guys, we knew they had the potential. Brooks was really good the last half of the year. Fedorov was really good for us, and having a chance to come in fresh would be great. And [Fleischmann] I thought was ready to blossom anytime soon."
Backstrom, Clark and Kozlov have combined for one goal and 10 points. Fedorov, Fleischmann and Laich have combined for 11 goals and 23 points. Other than Semin, Ovechkin and Mike Green, that trio represents the only other players on the team with more than two goals.
The secondary scoring and goaltender Brent Johnson's play have been the primary reasons why the Caps are 8-4-2 and tied with the Carolina Hurricanes atop the Southeast Division. Washington has weathered Ovechkin's slow start, but the reigning league MVP could end his slump soon. He has five points in his past three contests.
Washington is 6-4-2 this season when Ovechkin doesn't score a goal. In the past three seasons, the Caps won only 35 of 120 contests without Ovechkin scoring.
"[Ovechkin] isn't where he wants to be, and I think it is really important that we are able to win games without Alex scoring a goal," Boudreau said. "We're not relying on him. We need him, and we want him to score, but I am sure the guys have a little self-confidence that, if he's not going to be the one scoring that night, that we can do it."
Notes - Fedorov (undisclosed) and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn (groin) were not expected to make the trip to Raleigh, N.C., for the Caps' battle for first place with the Hurricanes on Wednesday night. Viktor Kozlov, who missed Monday's game against Tampa Bay with an undisclosed ailment, was expected to make the trip.