Caps Roll to Top of East

For fourteen seasons, when the National Hockey League (NHL) was aligned with six (6) divisions of five teams, each for the period from 1999-2013 (save for the 2004-05 NHL lockout when no games were played, that season), the Washington Capitals thoroughly dominated the old Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference, winning the division title for seven of those fourteen seasons and, in particular, during five of their last six seasons under the previous alignment.

However, the NHL realigned from six divisions of five teams, each to four (4) divisions, two with eight teams, each in the Eastern Conference (Metropolitan and Atlantic) and two divisions with six teams, each in the Western Conference (Central and Pacific) after the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. It was believed that the Washington Capitals would struggle to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs in the new, much tougher Metropolitan Division, with stalwart teams like the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins, and away from the comforts that the generally perceived Southeast Division provided for them.

In fact, the Capitals didn’t qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs in their first season in the Metropolitan Division, something they haven’t done since the 2006-07 season. It appeared that the pundits may have been right.

Enter an organizational shakeup…

The Capitals completely revamped their organizational structure, specifically with their hockey operations. The Capitals owner, Ted Leonsis decided to part ways with long-time General Manager (GM) George McPhee, who manned the helm of hockey operations for 17 years.  Leonsis then promoted former Assistant GM Brian MacLellan and hired former Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz, long-regarded as one of the NHL’s best bench bosses to change their on-ice fortunes and the organizational dynamic.  Trotz brought along with him Mitch Korn, a highly-regarded goaltending guru, to work with dynamic, young goaltender Braden Holtby with the goal to develop him into one of the NHL’s elite netminders.

As for on-ice player personnel, the Capitals reshaped their blueline, last season in acquiring via Free Agency Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen from the Penguins. During the recent off-season, the Capitals focused their efforts on bolstering the right side of their forward lines by acquiring T.J. Oshie from the St. Louis Blues and Justin Williams from the Los Angeles Kings in separate trades.

And the results from the organizational changes have been outstanding: the Capitals finished 2nd in the Metropolitan Division during the 2014-15 season, being eliminated in a heart-breaking 2nd round matchup against the Rangers, 4 games to 3.  However, the Capitals appeared to have shaken the moniker of their reputation as ‘Choking Dogs’, losing several 1st round playoff matchups to lower-seeded Stanley Cup playoff opponents and appear to be a team who can advance deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs with their newfound emphasis on defense and goaltending as well as obtaining players like Williams with Stanley Cup title experience.

So far this season, the Capitals sport the NHL’s best record at 23-6-2 as well as having the NHL’s best goal differential at +29. The Capitals are 4th in goals scored per game at 3.0 (GFA) and they are 2nd in the NHL in goals against per game (GAA), a stingy 2.14 average.  They are currently riding a 4-game winning streak and have gone 8-1-1 in their last 10 contests.  In net, Holtby leads the NHL in Goals Against Average (GAA) with a 1.92 GAA and is 5th in Save Percentage (Save%) with a .931 Save%.  And although Alexander Ovechkin ranks 11th in overall scoring in the NHL, he ranks 4th in goals scored and remains the most feared sniper in the league.

So, for the first time since the 2013-14 realignment, the bullseye has returned on the backs of the Washington Capitals as they appear to be the prohibitive ‘team to beat’. However, this time, the Capitals are proving the pundits wrong as to their impending demise by dominating the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference standings.