Are The Current Washington Capitals Contenders Or Pretenders?

At some point every team needs to sit down and decide what their team is. Especially at this time of the year with the trade deadline not to far off in the distance. Teams need to decide whether or not to go for it or not. The Washington Capitals are obviously no different.

Right now you have your true contenders who will obviously be trying to load up and make a run. Those teams are your Boston’s, the Carolina’s, the Leafs, the Lightning, just to name a few. Then you will have teams like the Buffalo Sabres. Obviously not a team contending for a Stanley Cup, but a threat to at least make the playoffs. It’s hard to call a team like the Sabres pretenders, but they are not a team the best are fearing, at least not right now.

You also have teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals. Two teams that have enjoyed a lot of success over the past nearly two decades now. Two teams with aging cores trying their best to hold on. I don’t think it is that big a coincidence these are your two wild card teams with the younger teams now controlling the metro playoff spots.

Teams like the Penguins and Capitals need to ask themselves some questions. Questions like, do we sacrifice a potential future asset to try to compete now?

The obvious answer to that question for most fans is yes. If you have a chance then do everything you can to win. No eyes on the future, no concerns of long, painful years. Just win now.

The questions teams like the Capitals have to ask is this. The way our team is currently built, can we make a run for a Stanley Cup? Is there someone we can go get that turns this team from a wild card team to a Cup contending team?

I don’t know the answer to the second question. I feel like I do know the answer to the first questions though. I don’t think this team, the way they are currently built, can make a run.

This Capitals team has put management in a weird position. This season has been very up and down. To start the season, all the way until the Thanksgiving break this was not a very good team. Twenty-one games into the season the Capitals were 8-10-3.

Then, from the 25th of November to the 28th of December the Capitals were tied for the second best point total in the entire league. They went 12-3-1, good for 25 points, tied with Boston, behind only the Carolina Hurricanes who had 30 points in that time. They were one of the best teams in the league for a month after being well below .500 the month before.

Since the 28th of December, well over a month ago now, the Capitals have returned to being an average team. In the sixteen games since then this team is 7-7-2. That record is incredibly average but there is something that is a little concerning in that record. Nine of the sixteen games played in that time came against teams that are unlikely to even make the playoffs.

Against the tough teams, teams that could easily make the playoffs the Capitals did this. Come from behind win vs the Islanders, loss to the Wild, destroyed by the Golden Knights, loss to the Avalanche, shootout win vs the Penguins and loss to the Maple Leafs.

Results, at least for me, are leaving a lot to be desired.

We can look at numbers if we want. Goals for per game they sit at 3.11, pretty good. They’re a top ten team in goals against a game at 2.83. Top ten is very good. All of their advanced numbers are good as well. Nothing exceptional but all good. Corsi, scoring chance, high danger attempts and expected goals for percentages are all between 51 and 52%. That’s good.

But numbers can only take you so far. I suppose the reality is this. In a sixteen game stretch the Washington Capitals went 12-3-1. For the other thirty-seven games they are 15-17-5.

Can this team the way they are now make a run? Can you see this team beating anyone in the eastern conference in a seven game series? Can they beat Carolina? Would they be able to take down a Boston? If they can’t get out of a wild card spot they will have to face one of those two teams.

Even if they do get out of the wild card, can they beat the Rangers? What about a younger, faster Devils team? If, and I do think it is a big if, if they beat the any of these teams can they beat the Lightning, or the Maple Leafs, or the Bruins?

The only team I can honestly see the Capitals beating in a series is maybe the New Jersey Devils. A little inexperienced, and I’m not sure how much I would trust their goaltending with the Capitals old friend in Vitek Vanecek. But that is a young and fast team. They can score goals, scoring 3.47 a game. In terms of goals against a game they are among the very best allowing just 2.69 a game, sixth best in the NHL. Do you feel confident against that? Not to mention they have one of the games best young stars in Jack Hughes. Do you want to try to stop him for an entire series?

Are the Capitals contenders or pretenders? Well, just look at their record for the majority of the season. They are an under .500 team. Just look at the teams they will have to beat in the playoffs. Would you honestly pick the Capitals to beat any of the teams ahead of them with confidence?

Anything can happen in the playoffs. For that matter, anything can happen between now and the playoffs. We still have two months and about thirty games to play before we get to this point. Maybe the Caps goalies get hot. Maybe in the playoffs they run into a goalie who won’t be able to stop a puck the size of the boulder from Indiana Jones. Who knows.

As of right now, the way this Capitals team is built I am not picking them to do anything come playoff time. This team has proven for large chunks of the season they are not that great, they have some trouble avoiding injuries and the play on the ice just looks average.

Right now, I don’t think you can call this team a contender at all. They are trying to contend, but they really aren’t, that has to mean they are pretenders. We’ll see what the next two months brings.