The Washington Capitals were sitting in last place in one of the worst divisions in hockey last week, with five points, two wins, and a plethora of questions through eleven games. They’re still in last place coming into Sunday’s game with the New York Rangers, but after three consecutive wins the Capitals are surging. Just six points off the pace of the division lead, can the Washington Capitals really turn things around and make the playoffs this season?
Alexander Ovechkin is certainly the heart and soul of the Washington Capitals. He gets far more blame for their failures, but he is also behind much of their success. As the Capitals have turned the corner, Ovechkin has started scoring again. Combined with the incredible season Mike Ribeiro is having with 17 points and 12 assists, the Caps have the threat of a dynamic offense again.
What has really held the Capitals back has been poor goaltending. Despite comprising a successful goaltending tandem last season, Washington Capitals goaltenders Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth have struggled this season. Goaltending and defense issues have plagued the Caps, leading to blowout losses, a -9 goal differential, and frustrating losses.
During the momentum of a three-game winning streak, the offense has scored 15 goals to make up for deficient goaltending in their last two games. If the Washington Capitals are truly going to turn this season around, defense and goaltending will be behind their success.
Adam Oates has made a difficult transition to head coaching, attempting to implement his system on a shortened season with virtually no training camp. As Oates is able to develop his defensive system, learn the capabilities of his roster, and achieve the structure he is looking for from his team, the Washington Capitals will only get better.
With coaching changes finally starting to come together, the offense clicking, and the Caps gaining some momentum at last, there is reason to believe they’ll be far more successful going forward. In a weak division, the Washington Capitals can easily surge up the standings and find themselves in the playoffs again.
Still, they will be tested this week. Games against top defensive teams like the Rangers and New Jersey Devils will test the Caps as they are unlikely to maintain their five goals per game average that has carried their win streak. If they can emerge from this stretch of schedule, things get easier for Washington. If they falter, the momentum of this small surge could be lost.
Though Washington may still be a playoff team, goaltending needs to be sharper or this shortened season will be lost.