Well fellow Caps Fans here we are basically at the mid-point of the 2014 - 15 NHL regular season and the Barry Trotz era Capitals appear to have jelled into their new system rather nicely and with a new culture as well. No "Winter Classic Hangover here (nor in Chicago for that matter.) The Caps are now 3-0-1 so far in the New Year after going 8-2-3 for the month of December, all of which means that at this season's midpoint the Capitals find themselves 21-11-8 with 50 points & 20 ROW on track for 100+ points and 40 ROW. That's a pretty big change from last season when they finished the regular season with 90 points and a paltry 28 ROW which meant golf lessons. The biggest difference, the one that validates how much harder a team, the Caps are to play against is the ROW number. That and the overall goal differential the Caps finished last season with a goal differential of -5, this season through 40 games, the Caps are +16. Those two things are really huge, IMO.
Then we have the basic way the Caps play now which in games like the Winter Classic or any of games 38, 39 and 40 you can see, this is a much different team then we've seen in a pretty long time. The 2014-15 version of the Washington Capitals are constructed fundamentally different then the Caps have been built in some time. Over the past summer when the Caps decided that GMBM, former Deputy GM Brian , would succeed GMGM his former boss George Mc Phee, I feared the Caps would not change enough. Then when free agency opened and the Caps went out and spent big money to bring in not one but two high priced UFA Defensemen, one of whom is 34 years old, I still wondered how this season would play out. I was encouraged but apprehensive. The first two full months of the season, and to some degree even now, the jury remains "out." But for me December gave me enough encouragement that I've transitioned from "cautious" through "cautiously optimistic" to just plain "optimistic." One of the reasons for my shift is that same 34 year old UFA defensemen that GMBM signed over the summer - Brooks Orpik, let's face it the Caps haven't had such a physical "stopper" defensemen on the blueline since trading Brendan Witt to the Nashville Predators during the 2005-2006 season. And when was the last time the Caps had five bonafide NHL top four caliber defensemen in their lineup? Clearly the team has and retains a scary good group of forwards who now have scored a total of 120 goals and average of 3.0 goals per game so far this season, buts its the fact that despite having a group of forwards lead by a generational talent who has averaged 0.615 goals/game over his career so far (678 NHL regular season and 58 NHL playoff games) is now clearly built from the goal line out. A team built so that the offense starts and is rooted in solid defense. Still not convinced look at the scoring stats of the Capital's blueline corps led by John Carlson who is having a career year: 4 G and 26 A, 30 Points through 40 games played; followed by a resurgent Mike Green: 4 G, 19 A, 23 Points in 32 games played; Karl Alzner with a career high 3 G (and 6 A), even though the season is only half way over. Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen who also have 9 and 13 points respectively. Clearly the blue liners are stepping up and participating in the offense as well as blocking shots and making sure the overall team defense numbers are looking good including resulting in a average goals against per game of 2.6 goals/game (10th best in the NHL so far this season.)
Then look at the difference in the forwards and the offense - clearly Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are at the core of the Capitals "offensive game" but with four other forwards (Fehr, Ward, Brouwer, and Johansson) besides Ovechkin and Backstrom on track for 20+ goal seasons and another six players (Laich, Beagle, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, Carlson, and Green) likely to end the season with 10+ goals this is clearly a much more balanced group of scoring forwards as well. And I'm not the only one starting to notice some of the other Washington forwards "gifts" and impact. If that isn't enough to convince you please also note that 10 different Capitals have scored the game winning goal in the Caps 21 wins so far this season.
Now back to a quick set of thoughts on the three games this past week.
Game 38 was a solidly played, 2 point afternoon home win on Sunday January 4th over the never say die Florida Panthers. While there were a few flitches and lapses, to my thinking the Caps played a well structured game that they pretty much controlled the full 60:00 IMO.
Game 39 was a good road game on Wednesday evening in Toronto that ultimately the Caps won in regulation by a score of 6 - 2. Despite the final score, for the first ~27:00 the game was closer than the final score indicates but from that point on the Caps clearly controlled the game and the Maple Leafs.
Game 40 was the second game of back to back road games that the Caps stole a point from the Flyers on the back of Braden Holtby's performance in goal last night in Philadelphia. That said the Caps never quit and it was the second game of two back to back road games in a hard building to play in and three points out of a possible four in two nights are three points I'd gladly take without complaint. If you're counting that's five out of a possible six points this past week or 0.833 hockey if you're counting.
Next up the Red Wings at Verizon Center tomorrow evening....