The Washington Capitals are on quite a run.
After a slow start to the season, the Caps have been virtually unstoppable for two months now, having gone 19-2-3 in 24 games since a 3-0 loss to the Islanders on December 1st to open up the slate of games for the final month of 2016. Washington hasn’t lost in regulation since December 27th, going 12-0-1 over its past 13 contests, the only loss an overtime defeat in last Monday’s 8-7 thriller against Pittsburgh.
Washington, which won the Presidents Trophy last season as the NHL’s best regular season team, has reclaimed the top spot in the league standings with 70 points as of Tuesday, a two-point lead ahead of Metropolitan Division rival Columbus, which holds down second.
The one caveat to this midseason run is the ‘peaking too soon’ argument that gets thrown around when teams play at this level at this time of the year. The run isn’t dissimilar to the level of play Washington was at this time last season en route to finishing with 120 points, which tied the 1972-73 Montreal Canadiens for the eighth-best total in NHL history. The Capitals went on a 32-5-3 run between November 19th and February 22nd of last season, but were bounced in the second round by Pittsburgh in six games.
For this current Capitals roster, it’s now or never, as next year’s team is guaranteed to look much different than this season’s edition. Karl Alzner, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, and Danniel Winnik are due to become unrestricted free agents while Andre Burakovsky, Evgeni Kuznetsov, and Dmitry Orlov will be restricted free agents. On top of all that, No. 1 defenseman John Carlson’s deal is up after next season and will be in line for a higher wage than his current $3.97 million salary. While Washington will remain competitive, the roster will look much different come 2017-18.
The team certainly seems to be playing as if that’s the message they’re receiving. As for whether this level can be sustained and Washington can advance to the conference finals for the first time of the Alex Ovechkin era remains to be seen.