- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nicklas Backstrom couldn’t believe he missed an open net Thursday. Troy Brouwer felt the same way Saturday. Offense wasn’t coming for the Washington Capitals in the infancy of Dale Hunter’s tenure as coach.

Baby steps and progress became the buzz, though Saturday night’s overtime victory against the Ottawa Senators gave the Caps something they had sorely been lacking: confidence they can win. Frustration on offense and breakdowns on defense gave way to smiles and the end of a four-game losing streak.

“When you’re not winning, it’s no fun. You lose some confidence,” said Hunter, who picked up his first victory as an NHL coach. “But they worked hard. The last three games since I’ve been here, they’ve busted their butts and usually you get rewarded for it. And it happened [Saturday].”

One positive result won’t cure everything that’s wrong with a team that went through a coach firing and the implementation of new systems in the past week. But Saturday finally brought results.

Hunter preaches an aggressive style of offense, which was lacking for long stretches in the first three games. Scoring chances started to steadily rise, though, as the Caps broke through for just their third win in 11 games.

“We did the right things,” said Brouwer, a right wing who scored Saturday. “We got pucks out when we needed to. We got a lot more shots and created a lot more offense. We’re on the right track to doing what we need to do.”

That was Alex Ovechkin’s point earlier in the week — that Washington had not all of a sudden become a team that couldn’t score goals. But with every puck that bounced off a stick or missed the mark, frustration built.

The same thing happened Saturday against Ottawa, as the Caps put a lot more shots on net but struggled to click. Brouwer’s goal and then Brooks Laich’s game-winner in overtime provided the kind of tangible evidence of progress they needed.

“You know it’s going to come. If you keep doing the right things, you’re going to score and you’re going to generate chances,” veteran right wing Mike Knuble said. “I think we ought to be happy that we generated 35 [shots] ourselves and we were able to capitalize like that.”

It looked frustrating because the Caps carried the play against the Senators and probably should have scored more. But players didn’t get the same sort of slumped shoulders they might have a few weeks ago.

“It’s always a good feeling when you’re dominating, when you’re getting scoring chances,” an upbeat Hunter said. “So the guys were up, they were going hard. It was just a matter of time.”

It was just a matter of time until Hunter got his first victory, even as the Caps were stuck in a losing funk. They hope it’s just a matter of time until the power play (0-for-8 in three games) starts clicking, too.

On the defensive end, the Caps have been much better. Former coach Bruce Boudreau cited giving up a lot of goals as one of the chief reasons for his firing, and Washington has buttoned down under Hunter.

Saturday’s victory was a look at what could go right if the offense comes along, too. Up next is the Caps’ first road trip with Hunter in charge - Monday at the Florida Panthers and Wednesday at Ottawa.

“We get that first win out of the way now and now we get out on the road,” Laich said. “We were not getting the results and now we’ve got out of a little funk with a win. But we have to start stringing two, three, four, five together to make some progress that way.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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