Originally posted on FOX Sports  |  Last updated 10/7/11
The Washington Capitals have won four straight Southeast Division titles, but that regular-season success has not translated into an extended playoff run. Coach Bruce Boudreau hopes a new "team-first" attitude will produce better postseason results. With Alex Ovechkin questionable after leaving the country this week due to a death in the family, the Capitals look to extend their point streak against the Carolina Hurricanes to 10 in their season opener Saturday night. Washington closed last season on an 18-4-1 run and tied for the third-most points in franchise history with 107, but was swept by Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference semifinals. It was the fourth consecutive postseason that the Caps were bounced by a lower-seeded team. "There's not another dollar to spend, there's not another ticket to sell,'' owner Ted Leonsis said. "It's all up to the organization now to be very, very focused and improve upon last year. But there's not much that we have left to do in management. It's now up to the players and coaches and I think they've all internalized that." Looking to help his team make that long-anticipated run to the Stanley Cup finals, Boudreau is stressing less selfishness and the importance of team play. "They're hearing it every day from all the coaches," said Boudreau, who is 17-20 in the playoffs. "And I think it's something we're going to pound into them, and it'll get done right.'' Washington hopes Ovechkin's "secret" offseason training program will help him rebound from his worst offensive year. He scored a career-low 32 goals and his 85 points were also a career-worst total, though still good for seventh in the league. "He wanted to work his way into shape so that he was peaking during the playoffs,'' Leonsis said. "He's trying something different this year. The results will speak for themselves at the end of the season, but he looks great." It's uncertain, though, if Ovechkin will be on the ice Saturday after traveling to Moscow following the death of his uncle. If Ovechkin doesn't play, Boudreau will likely replace him with Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault or Marcus Johansson. Laich signed a six-year, $27 million deal in the offseason after scoring 16 goals in 2010-11 - down from 25 the season before. The Capitals are also looking for bounce-back efforts from Alexander Semin (40 goals in 2009-10 to 28 last season) and Nicklas Backstrom, whose output dropped from a career-best 33 to 18 last season. The additions of Joel Ward, Jeff Halpern and Troy Brouwer could also provide an offensive lift for a team that scored 224 goals in 2010-11, a significant drop from a league-best 318 the season before. Washington also added veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik with Tom Poti on long-term injured reserve. The Capitals traded goaltender Semyon Varlamov to Colorado in the offseason and signed Tomas Vokoun, who is expected to be the No. 1 goalie. Michal Neuvirth, however, will start Saturday after a strong training camp and preseason. Neuvirth, 27-12-4 with a 2.45 goals-against average in 2010-11, faced Carolina once last season and won 3-0 on the road Oct. 27, turning away 29 shots for his first career shutout. He'll take on a Hurricanes team that is looking to rebound from a 5-1 season-opening home loss to Tampa Bay on Friday. Carolina was shut out after 2010-11 Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner scored the game's first goal 8:07 into the contest. "I liked our first period. We played pretty good then, but then one mistake there, a couple of penalties and they got the lead,'' said left wing Jussi Jokinen, whose unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the second period resulted in the Lightning's go-ahead power-play goal. "Lots of things we need to do better.'' The Hurricanes will have to get that done on the road, where they'll play six of seven. Cam Ward, who made 29 saves Friday, was 1-3-0 with a 2.16 GAA against Washington last season. The Capitals had the second-best home record in the league last season at 25-8-8. They went 5-0-1 versus Carolina in 2010-11 and have not lost in regulation to the Hurricanes since a 6-3 home defeat Dec. 28, 2009.
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