What is the capital of the NHL? Right now, it’s Washington and with a 7-0-0 record, the Capitals remain the only unbeaten team left in the National Hockey League. This is nothing new for the Caps, who have finished first in the Southeast Division the last four seasons and even earned the President’s Trophy as the league’s best team back in 2009-10. However, they have failed to make it as far as the Conference Finals, receiving an early exit each season. Now they’re out to prove something, to their fans and to the league but are they the best team in hockey?
There was plenty of hype surrounding Saturday night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings – it was a match between the only two remaining unbeaten teams left in the league. It was a chance early on in the season for one of the two teams to flex some muscle and show they are the team to beat. Well, the Caps must have looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger during his Mr. Universe days after the beat down they handed Detroit, routing the Red Wings 7-1 in our nation’s capital.
Of course, no one ever reads the fine print but here it is: Detroit had played the previous night at home in a 5-2 win over Columbus and because of that coach Mike Babcock elected to start backup goalie Ty Conklin instead of Jimmy Howard. Playing a home game the night before a road game can be difficult for any team but it’s even tougher for the Red Wings, who are the league’s oldest team.
But be that as it may, the Caps certainly proved they are the tops in the NHL, earning point number 14, out of a possible 14 (the Pittsburgh Penguins also have 14 but have competed in three more games) this season.
In their seven games, the Capitals have never trailed after two periods of play and have trailed just once – during a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh – after the first stanza. It is actually a little bizarre, considering how their season began. Each of their first three contests went to overtime and collectively they allowed 10 goals in those games.
The Caps addressed probably their biggest issue this off season, bringing in veteran goaltender Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun flew under the radar as a member of the small-market Florida Panthers for several years and had decent numbers at best, on a team that was always at the bottom of the pack. A change of scenery must have been just what he needed, because he has been white-hot early on, compiling a record of 6-0-0 with a 1.80 goals-against-average.
It had seemed to be a revolving door between the pipes the last few seasons for Washington, with guys like Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov failing to get the job done and being used as a scapegoat, which is perhaps why Bruce Boudreau is still coaching the Capitals. He might be the only scapegoat they have left!
There are no excuses this year, as the Capitals have shown they are the cream of the crop in not only the Eastern Conference, but in the entire league as well. Anything less than a Stanley Cup Finals appearance is pretty much another failure of a season.
Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.