The Washington Capitals (or is it the Wizards, considering their 2017 magic?) have been no strangers to the spotlight since the dawn of the new year.
Eighteen wins in a 21-game stretch, including 12 straight victories at home, will do that to you.
We know this team is no slouch, at least when it comes to the regular season. Washington isn’t just now becoming a rapid-shooting unit with enough impressive numbers to warrant top-10 power-ranking placement on a weekly basis. And yet a six-game winning streak with 12 consecutive home dubs racked up is hard to ignore, even if the Caps are far and away the class of the league with 84 points and a 39-11-6 record.
Unless the Detroit Red Wings pull off an upset with the NHL-standings equivalent of a seismic wave Saturday, both of the Caps’ streaks are bound to stay intact, and one should extend. Two more road contests precede a return to the Verizon Center, where the Metropolitan Division frontrunners will look for consecutive home victory No. 13.
In any regard, the seemingly unstoppable run is impressive.
But what’s behind it? Let’s take a look inside the Caps’ undeniable dominance:
The Caps know how to score a lot ... and efficiently
So this one’s a given, and it’s something you would expect from one of the NHL’s premier teams. But just because everyone knows Washington is a threat doesn’t mean the club’s gaudy numbers don’t warrant a look. The Caps are scoring, and they’re not showing any signs of slowing.
Two Washington players, team-leading center Nicklas Backstrom and captain Alex Ovechkin, rank in the NHL’s top 13 in points, while two -- Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie -- own top-15 spots among league-wide goal scorers. As a team, the offense-heavy Pittsburgh Penguins are tied with the Caps atop the league with 191 goals, while Washington ranks second in the NHL with 3.41 goals per game and has top-five marks for power play and penalty kill percentages.
Slow down the Caps offense, and maybe you slow down the Caps, who had nine straight wins earlier this season. But beware, because Washington has not only been scoring a bunch but putting goals in the net at an efficient rate. Unlike, say, the Pens, whose NHL-high 191 goals have come as a result of an average of 34.4 shots per game, Washington is ranked 18th in the league with an average of 29.7 shots.
That means they are controlling the puck, then doing some serious damage with it. It’s a recipe for long-lasting success.
They also are playing stingy defense
Kind of sounds like the prototypical total team effort, doesn’t it?
What really complements the Caps’ big-scoring run is the fact that Washington has also upped its play on D, where the team has surrendered 10 fewer goals than the Minnesota Wild, who would otherwise lead the league in goals against. Since their 12-game home winning streak kicked off in January, in fact, the Caps have twice allowed an opponent to score more than three goals in a game. And their absurd goal differential, a plus-71 mark, is sizably better than that of the Wild, not to mention a laughable contrast from the negative-74 differential owned by the Colorado Avalanche.
With world-renowned goalie Braden Holtby, whose lifetime save percentage now ranks among the NHL’s top three all-time, maybe the defensive success shouldn’t be too surprising, either. But it’s still flooring, especially from a purely statistical perspective, and it sure explains just how Washington has found itself on such a tear.
The home wins have been big wins
And if we’re going to take a peek back at the games that actually led to Washington’s ever-growing home streak, it’s important to note that the Caps didn’t just eek out victories against lesser clubs, either. It’s fair to dub just about any opponent as “lesser” than the Capitals, sure, but take a gander at some of the final scores from the team’s 12-game romp in the Verizon Center:
- Jan. 5: Capitals 5, Columbus Blue Jackets 0
- Jan. 11: Capitals 5, Penguins 2
- Jan. 13: Capitals 6, Chicago Blackhawks 0
- Jan. 15: Capitals 5, Philadelphia Flyers 0
- Jan. 23: Capitals 6, Carolina Hurricanes 1
- Feb. 11: Capitals 6, Anaheim Ducks 4
With the exception of maybe Anaheim’s four-goal effort this week, the slate of home wins for Washington has been littered with blowouts and shutouts -- and against top-ranked contenders like the Pens, Blackhawks and Blue Jackets, no less. Say what you will, but the Caps’ streaky patch of elite play can probably not be overstated.
Now, as the playoff push continues, the real question will be whether the Capitals’ firm grip on the Eastern Conference and journey to the postseason lasts well beyond the streak and toward a Stanley Cup bid or fizzles out, as has been the case in recent Washington playoff history.