With the All-Star break quickly approaching, the NHL has hit the point of the season where teams that found early season success — like the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Montreal Canadians — are cooling off a bit. On the flip side, fringe teams such as the Philadelphia Flyers and the Toronto Maple Leafs are doing everything they can to make things click and gain ground in the Eastern Conference wild-card race. The Washington Capitals have overcome their early season woes and quickly risen to the No. 1 spot in the NHL over the past month.
The Caps entered the New Year as the NHL’s most dominant team. It would be easy to say there is a singular reason for their success. But simply put, the entire team has come together. The Caps have scored 58 goals in their last 12 games — including five or more goals in eight of those games.
The offensive output has largely been due to the fact that everyone is contributing for the Caps, not just their star players. Role players who are not necessarily getting paid the most on the team have been producing more than expected.
After a rocky start to the season, Andre Burakovsky has finally broken out. He has notched seven goals and 12 points in 16 games since getting scratched by Head Coach Barry Trotz for three games in a row. Burakovsky’s offensive efforts often ignite the entire team, as five of those seven goals have been the first of the game. The Caps are no longer chasing teams, and Burakovsky has been the catalyst.
At age 35, Justin Williams is the leading scorer for the Caps since their hot streak began. In fact, with seven goals since the New Year began, he leads the entire NHL in the calendar year. Since hitting his stride, Williams has been a point-per-game player, producing well above the expected margin of a 35-year old second liner with a two-year contract.
Fourth-liner Brett Connolly added five of his own goals over the 12-game span. For a bottom-six forward with a one-year contract who spent the early part of the season trading places with minor league call-ups like Jakub Vrana and Zach Sanford, this is a phenomenal feat. Connolly continues to prove that he deserves a place on this team in spectacular fashion, and can expect a pay increase with his next contract.
It is obvious the Caps are experiencing no issues scoring goals. With arguably the best depth of any team in the NHL — owing much of its success to its third and fourth lines — the only fear of the team is that it may be peaking too soon. A hot streak like this is simply unsustainable, and with the playoffs months away, fans are starting to wonder if this spells bad news for their postseason chances.
The only way to combat this fear is by not getting complacent. This month has been an incredible confidence boost for the Caps, revealing to the league and themselves the team’s potential when everything jives. The Caps are building a strong foundation for themselves, and after tinkering with lines and testing out new players during the first half of the season, they seem to have finally settled on a core that works.
Confidence and depth wins Cups, whereas waiting on sporadic hot streaks rarely does. The results are impressive, but it is the team behind the success that counts, and in my opinion this stretch has produced a stronger, more efficient, playoff-ready team.
Kyle Parisi is a sophomore in the College. Between the Pipes appears every Tuesday.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.