Well the Caps are 7-4-0-1 since Bruce Boudreau took the helm as interim coach. Personally, I think the last two games are cause for hope. Another 10 games, or so, like this and Bruce Boudreau's "Interim" label may no longer be warranted or apply. This weekend the Caps lost a "good game" on Friday night, at home versus the Sabres, who certainly seem to have their number so far this year. Since the Sabres are playing pretty good hockey having gone 6-4 in their last ten, the Caps could have used that game as cause to relapse to the funk they were in prior to Thanksgiving. Instead, last night, the Washington skaters came out resilient and focused against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are very tough at home with a home record of 11-4-2 so far this season.
The Caps played a hard fought game and got offense from their third and fourth lines as well as the defense corps to relieve some pressure on their stars and came away with a 3-2 victory at the end of regulation. To be sure the game was not without it's highs and lows but the statistics clearly show the Caps out shot and in several categories outplayed the Lightning. Those who watched the game saw the Caps do a superb job of bottling up the Lightning's formidable set of offensive weapons. In short, the Caps shrugged off the loss to the Sabres and went about the business of making sure they got two points from their division rival Lightning. For the month of December to date, the Caps are 5-2. Additionally, the last five games of November, Bruce Boudreau's first at the Caps helm, resulted in a 2-2-0-1. Are the Caps picking up steam? It's too early to tell but Caps fans have to really like what they are seeing so far. The team's scoring is coming from more than just Alexander Ovechkin. Since the coaching change, in addition to Ovechkin, 14 other Caps have tallied goals during the Caps' 12 games. Hershey Bears call-up Joe Motzko and Defenseman Mike Green both have games where they scored two goals. Young Defenseman Jeff Schultz had a three game scoring streak, and goals have also been tallied by Bears callup and penalty killer Quintin Laing as well as goals in two games including a very pretty game winner last night by Defenseman Brian Pothier. This diverse productivity has clearly made the Caps a much harder team to play; and it has helped their superstar slowly climb up to number two on the league's goal scorer list. Over the past 12 games, the Caps bumper crop of 2004 first round draft picks - Ovechkin, Green, Schultz - have shown they have all arrived. Even Shultz whose performance over the past two seasons has at times been erratic, seems to have steadied his performance and is as consistent as his +/- stat of +5 in 38 games with the Caps last season would indicate he should be. The Caps are showing the talent a team with 10 first round draft picks ought to be able to bring to bear on their opponents. In addition to the tireless work ethic instilled in them by their former coach, they appear to have now added the no excuses philosophy of their current bench leader. The combination seems to be working and the product on the ice is more fun to watch then ever.
Most importantly the Caps have now captured 15 of 24 possible points and are 4-1-0-1 in six games against Southeast Division opponents. In games against their division rivals the Caps have given 3 points and taken 9 - that's plus 6 on the field and continues to allow Caps fans hope for a playoff spot despite the fact their team remains tied for last in the league with 26 points. Welcome to the era of post lockout, salary cap imposed parity. The cause for hope is based on the fact that of the Caps remaining fifty games, they will face Southeast Division opponents sixteen times - at the current point capture ratio that will give them 24 of the additional 66 points, conventional wisdom says, they need to gain a playoff berth. That means they need to play .615 hockey in the other 34 games which is on or close to the pace they've been having so far under Boudreau. A tough road ahead - sure; do they need to play every game with "playoff intensity" - sure. But it is possible, and they sure seem more resilient and confident under Coach Boudreau then they did earlier this season when they stumbled. Of course step one will be getting out of the NHL's cellar. A great place to start would be marching into Joe Louis arena and figuring a way to get at least one point from the league leading Red Wings who are 7-1-2 in their last 10 and 13-2-1 at home so far this season. The Red Wings haven't lost a game outright in regulation since their 3-2 loss to the Predators at Nashville on November 22nd; and haven't lost at Joe Louis since a 5-3 loss to the Blackhawks on November 17th. A victory by the Caps would send a real signal to the rest of the league, they intend to return to the powerhouse they started the season's first three games like, and the rebuild is indeed over in Washington.
Never give up, never say die. Take no prisioners - no excuses. LETS GO CAPS!!!!