It has been a very good month and a half for the Washington Capitals. That month and a half represents more than a quarter of the season. During that time the Capitals are the third best team in the NHL. Over their last twenty-five games the Caps are 16-6-3. Only the Carolina Hurricanes and the Boston Bruins can say they have been better, the Canes being 17-4-3, the Bruins 16-3-4.
While that record over the past twenty-five is fantastic the recent results have left a little to be desired. Since Christmas the Capitals have played nine games. In those nine games they are just 4-3-2. A winning record, in least in hockey terms. Overall they have lost more than they have won. But things could easily be worse.
I think the thing you could say about that record since the holiday break that is annoying is simply this. It is a very average record and during that time Washington has not played the toughest of competition. You can only play, or beat whatever team is in front of you. The Capitals do no control the schedule. But for a team on a roll you would have like better results vs teams that likely will not make the playoffs.
Over this “easier” stretch the Capitals have played the Rangers, a good team in which they beat. They have also played Ottawa, Montreal, Buffalo, Columbus twice, Nashville, and Philadelphia twice. New York is a very good team and they did get the victory in that game, but a very average record against the rest of those teams is not ideal. None of those teams are currently in the playoffs and they all have a lot of work to do to get in a playoff spot again.
At a later time we can talk about why this team is just putting up average results over the past ten or so. But it needs to be pointed out that the Capitals have put up just an okay record playing against below average competition lately.
To me that begs the questions, how will the team look when they start to play the better teams in the league once again. Luckily, or unluckily for us, however you want to see it, we will not have to wait long to find out.
The Capitals are now entering a stretch before the all-star break where the majority of games they play are against tough teams. Between now and the break the Caps play eight games. You can say six of those games are against good teams.
Those teams are the Islanders, not in a playoff spot but still challenging, Minnesota, Las Vegas, Colorado, also not in a playoff spot but most expect will still find a way in, Pittsburgh, and Toronto. In the middle of all of that you find Arizona and then to wrap all of it up you play Columbus once again.
Have the Capitals gotten a little jaded? Can that be the reason for this little down period? They know they have worked hard, gotten back into a good spot in the standings, are now playing some “weaker” competition and it’s hard to play your A game when your in a weaker stretch of a schedule?
I know that sounds bad, but it has to be considered. I think it is natural at the same time. That thought has to creep in. The thought of we’re playing well, we’ve put ourselves in a good spot again, and tonight we’re playing the last place Blue Jackets in January. You like to think professionals don’t think that way but there are countless examples of every team in every sport doing this.
It’s hard to get up for all eighty-two games.
That’s why I think the upcoming schedule is very intriguing. Is that the case? Is the last nine or so games just a blip? Or is this what the Capitals are once again? An average team at best. Did we already see the best that this team has to offer with the good play for about a month? Is this a Jekll and Hyde kind of team? For large stretches you will get the good play, but you will also get very average play, if not bad?
I think we thought the Capitals were giving us answers during their good play from the 23rd of November to the Christmas break. The were clearly out of the playoffs and now they find themselves clearly in thanks to that good run. But now they have struggled vs some bad teams. Even in the wins during the past nine games, some of them were not that impressive. The Montreal game coming to mind. That was a very even game if the Canadiens didn’t have a slight advantage. Then the Caps turn it on for a short amount of time, dominate and walk away winners.
I don’t think we have answers. I think we have more questions. Is this really a good or great team, or are they still average? They didn’t play that well vs the teams towards the bottom, will playing against the teams towards the top wake them up? Or will it expose them?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I am very excited to find out what this team is over the next couple of weeks before the all-star break.