If there can be a turning point in a season that was largely on the right track from the get go, it came for the Caps on December 23 at Madison Square Garden.
Washington entered that game with an impressive 20-11-3 record, but still reeling from a 7-1 thumping in Philly a few days earlier and playing in a building in which they had not won since prior to the lockout, all with nearly half of their payroll in street clothes.
Jose Theodore had gone 3-3-1/3.67/.868 in his previous eight appearances, and 11:15 into the game, the Caps were in a 3-0 hole that would extend by one five minutes into the second period.
Shortly thereafter, Alex Ovechkin took over, the rest of the team followed his lead, and Shaone Morrisonn's goal in the first minute of overtime sent the Caps into their Christmas break euphoric.
Ever since midway through that second period, the Caps have been on fire, posting a 14-5-1 record. Ovechkin has racked up 17 goals and nine assists in the 19-plus games, Mike Green has 11 goals, 15 helpers and a plus-12 rating in 18 games, and Theodore has gone 12-4-1/2.15/.922. The power play has clicked at 25.6%, and the penalty kill has... well, it's been crappy (though it has been 84.6% successful over the last five games, unsurprisingly coinciding with Tom Poti's return to the lineup).
As for the Rangers, since that glorious night, they've gone 7-8-2 (including 0-4-1 in their last five), have been shutout three times, allowed ten goals against in a single game, and are seemingly moments away from bringing Sean Avery back to Manhattan for an encore performance of his one-man off-Broadway show, "Weapon of Mass Douchestruction." Good luck with that.
But every game on the NHL schedule presents new challenges, and it's rarely easy sledding on the road, so expect a close game. Oh, and if the Caps dig themselves an early hole, you might not want to change the channel - you never know what might happen next.
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
Bruce Boudreau has been a pretty good coach so far in his stint in the NHL, FYI.... If Dennis Maruk scored 60-goals in Washington in the early '80s and no one heard it, did it make a sound?... With the Caps playing the Rangers, I figured it'd be a good time for this Cap of the Day.... Bear Tracks!... Another shutout for Braden Holtby.... Happy 32nd Birthday to former Caps farmhand Dwayne Hay.