The Washington Capitals are halfway through a four game road swing that has the potential to define their season. The two games played thus far paralleled the Caps’ season to date. Last Friday night, the Capitals faced the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers. In a gritty and hard fought performance, Washington played the kind of hockey necessary to avoid falling short of a playoff berth. Although former Capital Tomas Fleischmann scored first — with just 40 seconds remaining in the first period, the Capitals continued to battle. They outshout the Panthers in every period, putting up a total of 41 shots on goal. They held onto the puck better than they had in the past several games, and when Washington’s two Alex’s each lit the lamp in the third period, that was all that was needed to bring the Caps back within two points of Florida, with both teams having played 57 games of the regular season.
Less than 24 hours later, the Capitals faced the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that so unceremoniously swept Washington from last year’s playoffs in four straight. Everyone predicted this would be a hard fought contest, and it was. The only problem, at least from the perspective of Capitals fans, was that the Bolts fought harder. While the shots on goal and faceoffs statistics were almost dead even, the Capitals gave the puck away twelve times. And one of those giveaways directly resulted in a breakaway for Steven Stamkos, the NHL’s leading scorer. It’s pretty clear how that was going to come out. Stamkos scored the Lightning’s second and what turned out to be the game-winning goal.
There was one bright spot for Washington yesterday, however: the return of two time all-star defenseman Mike Green following surgery to repair a sports hernia. While he played a limited number of minutes (14), it was great to see #52 back on the ice. He demonstrated the calm puck handling and smooth skating that have been his forte for all his years in the league — two traits that have been missing from Washington’s blue line in far too many games.
Looking at the Capitals remaining schedule, it’s clear that they must play better and with much greater consistency. After all, they are 3-5-2 over their last ten games. Even a .500 win percentage between now and the end of the regular season won’t be enough. Winning half their remaining games would put them at 87 points — last year’s #8 seed in the Eastern Conference (the Rangers) had 93 and the year before that the Canadiens had 88 (by the way, Western Conference numbers were even higher both years).
So, with the trade deadline less than a week away, we will know very soon the view of the franchise’s management of how the regular season is likely to end. It promises to be an interesting week. The first step needs to be a solid performance against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday.
Let’s Go Caps!