So everyone’s heard the Capitals have now tied their club record for the longest winning streak in team history this week. Washington had four games in six days and still managed to win all four.
So where do the Caps stand? Well, after their late December meltdown, the Caps slid pretty far in the standings giving up their seat atop the NHL leader-board. Just seven days ago, the Caps were two points behind Chicago and six points behind San Jose. The Caps are now two points ahead of Chicago and have closed to only 1-point behind San Jose for the top spot in the NHL.
The Caps have increased their lead in the Eastern Conference standings from three points ahead of New Jersey, to eight points ahead of New Jersey and have increased the lead in their division to 23 points. The remaining teams in the Southeast division aren’t fighting for first anymore; they are fighting for second. Florida, Atlanta and Tampa have 57, 56 and 55 points respectively and second place seems to change every other day. The margin from worst to first in the Southeast is 35-points! It’s the widest margin in the NHL.
Washington could forfeit every game between now and March 8th and still be leading the Southeast division.
Many are worried that the Caps may be “peaking too early.” I think what we are seeing in Washington is a team that is showing that it can accomplish whatever goals they set for themselves. Sure Coach Boudreau is not talking about the winning streak to the media, but you better believe that the players are focused on it.
This team believes in itself; the players believe in each other. The “superstar effect” is gone. These guys aren’t waiting for Ovechkin or Semin to make the game-winning play; they all want to make the game-winning play.
Since Ovechkin was named Team Captain, the team has gone 13-2. Ovechkin isn’t leading the league in goals. He’s not even leading the league in points, and he’ll tell you he doesn’t care about such things. What he does care about is winning. Last year the touchdown play was Backstrom to Ovechkin for the score. This year it’s Ovechkin to Backstrom; or Flieschmann to Fehr or Laich to Semin etc..
It’s easy for a team to “watch out” for one guy. Whenever Ovechkin is on the ice, he sees the opponents’ “top line.” With scoring coming from all four lines, and from their defensemen, the Caps are hard to stop. Washington averaged 4.67 goals per game in January and are averaging 3.82 goals per game for the season. That’s a half-goal per game better than anyone else in the league!
So the question on everybody’s mind is where will the winning streak end? Will it be tomorrow in Boston (4th in the Northeast with 55 points)? Thursday in New York versus the Rangers (4th in the Atlantic with 57 points)? Friday when they come home to face Atlanta 24-hours later (3rd in the Southeast with 56 points)? Sunday versus Pittsburgh (2nd in the Atlantic with 69 points)?
Let’s break down the upcoming opponents.
Tuesday, February 2nd @ Boston Bruins
Last Game: Thursday October 1st at Boston, Caps won 4-1
Boston may not be doing very well this year, but it’s hard to know which Boston team you’re going to face. Boston has gone 0-3-2 in their last five games, and 1-7-2 in their last ten, but their one victory in that time period was over the San Jose Sharks (who currently sit at first place in the league, 1-point ahead of Washington).
Thursday, February 4th at New York Rangers
Last Game: Tuesday, November 17th, @ Rangers, Caps won 4-2
New York has a history of giving the Caps trouble, especially in Madison Square Garden. When the Caps last visited the Garden, they escaped with a two goal lead only because New York had pulled their net-minder trying to get the tying goal. New York carried Washington to a full seven games in last year’s playoffs. New York has won only three of it’s last 10 games including a 3-1 victory yesterday over Colorado. The secret for the Caps here is not to over-look them.
Friday, February 5th vs. Atlanta Thrashers
Last Game: Saturday, January 9th, @ Atlanta, Caps won 8-1
Atlanta has faced Washington three times this year, and all three times were in Atlanta. The Thrasher faithful watched their team fall by scores of 5-4, 4-3, and most recently 8-1. Atlanta will be looking to return the favor to the Washington fans in Verizon against a Caps’ team that may have been softened up playing back to back games. The only two players on the Caps’ roster that will be well rested will be Mike Green who will be returning from his three game suspension, and the goal-tender (unless Boudreau is going to have one goalie play both in New York and again the next day at Verizon which is highly unlikely).
Super Bowl Sunday, February 7th vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Game: Thursday January 21st, @ Pittsburgh, Caps won 6-3
Thursday, January 21st was the first time the Penguins and Capitals had seen each other since game 7 of the ’08-’09 playoffs. Washington hung six goals on them at the Igloo; since then Pittsburgh has won three of it’s last four games and will be looking for similar retribution as Atlanta. Pittsburgh is the toughest opponent for the Caps this week (by the numbers) so hopefully Washington isn’t looking too far ahead.
Unbelievably, the only one of these upcoming opponents the Caps have lost to this season has been New York and it was at Verizon Center (and you have to go way back to the fourth game of the season; Thursday, October 8th Rangers won 4-3). New York is also the only opponent on the list to play the Caps at Verizon this season.
As long as the Caps keep doing what they’ve been doing, there is little reason for them not to continue this streak. Let’s just take it one game at a time and hope for a history making win in Boston!