When the Washington Capitals finished off the Ottawa Senators for a 2-1 victory Saturday night, they were alone atop the NHL in one respect.
"We're the only team right now that's 4-0," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "So it's a tough league."
That distinction only lasted a half-hour until Detroit moved to 4-0 as well, but the Caps' unbeaten mark through four games has not exactly been a thing of beauty. They've won three games in overtime or the shootout and eked out Saturday's win over a team considered one of the worst in the league.
Undefeated - but the Caps are far from happy about their level of play so far.
"I think there's a lot of things to correct. But we got two points, and that's what matters the most," center Marcus Johansson said. "As long as we win, we can always work on stuff. And I guess it's a good sign but still not the way you want to win."
Center Nicklas Backstrom said there was plenty to work on. And not just a couple things.
"I think pretty much everything," he added. "We [need] quicker puck movement and better forechecks, stuff like that. And better backchecks in the defensive zone, especially."
Everything might be a bit of hyperbole, but while the Caps have not lost, they've won each game by just one goal and - especially against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Senators — struggled with the little things. Their defensive-zone coverage at times was lacking, and the lines counted on to provide offense could not maintain heavy pressure in the offensive end.
Yet goaltender Tomas Vokoun bounced back from a rough Caps debut in goal to come up with a 39-save effort in Pittsburgh and a 33-save performance to beat the Senators. With that, and his team finally scoring a five-on-four power-play goal, Boudreau isn't downplaying moving to 4-0.
"There were a lot of good signs," the coach said. "I think that's the sign of a winning team. We're not satisfied, but we're happy with some of the things that people are getting better day in and day out."
It's impossible to be totally unhappy with the performances so far, though at times the play has been uneven and the defensive execution has not been there.
Defenseman Roman Hamrlik cited the Penguins as a team to emulate in the way they carry themselves methodically and don't make costly errors.
"We can play the same as Pittsburgh style — just a little bit of discipline and do the stuff what the coaches tell us to do and we're going to be fine," Hamrlik said. "It's been only four games, but the neutral zone and defensive zone, it's our biggest problem right now that I've seen."
Boudreau has been quick to say in recent days that there's too much of an emphasis among fans and even hockey people about needing to win "pretty."
When all three of the Caps' wins had come in overtime, he said he'd take 82 of them if necessary.
With those good feelings about victories keeping the mood light, there's an understanding that this kind of play won't be tolerated for long. But with each game another teaching experience, the calendar is the Caps' friend.
"It's October. That's not going to float — you're not going to want to see that in February, March, April," veteran Mike Knuble said. "In October it's fine. You work on it, and we'll be better Tuesday."
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