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A Speed Bump Ahead On the Historic Road?

A two day breather gives us a chance to reflect for a moment on the next potential step of this stupendous 14-game run of the Washington Capitals.  Shattering the previous franchise-best mark of 10 straight victories, and besting the arch-rival Penguins twice in the process, the 14-game winning streak is just three short of the record of 17 straight, set by those same Penguins in 1992-93 (which, incidentally, included one victory over Washington by a 7-5 score).

Anyone who has looked at the schedule ahead knows that the Caps could tie that historic mark by the Olympic Break.  That is, if they manage to prevail in three straight road games (and two back-to-back), a feat the team has accomplished just once in 12 opportunities during the Bruce Boudreau era. 

Most players on the team will be on hiatus until shortly before March 3.  As Tarik put it:  "Many of the players who are not participating in Vancouver will go find an island and a palm tree" and players are not permitted to use the Kettler facilities until official practices resume.  Some might view this as a speed bump for the otherwise unstoppable Capitals victory bus, regardless of whether the team wins out this week.  To me, the break might better be viewed as an opportunity to halt and correct a few negative trends that have crept their way into this exhilarating ride. 

1.  Discipline.  As we noted yesterday, Jose Theodore, during his personal win streak, has faced 5.2 power play opportunities per game.  The Caps have been shorthanded an average of 4 times per game this season (236 times in 59 GP), but allowed 4.6 PP opportunities per game during the streak, and 6 opportunities in three of its last four contests.  During those four contests, Capital players have committed 10 HHT (hooking, holding, or tripping) infractions. 

2.  Slow starts.  In its last five outings, the Caps have managed just two first period goals, both of which served to tie the game at 1-1.  (The team leads the league in first period goals scored to date, with 69.)

3.  Defensive mistakes.  This is more anecdotal, and no collection of players makes the right plays with the puck 100% of the time, or even close to that.  But more frequently during this past week of action, high-percentage scoring opportunities, if not goals, for opponents are directly resulting from poor clearing attempts and outlets, and unwise east-west passing from those manning the points (for example, this one and this one from Sunday).  Overall, the Caps have also allowed at least 35 SA/G in each of the the last four games. 

By contrast to Coach Boudreau's consistency in setting out the forward lines during nearly this entire streak, the defensive pairs have been rearranged frequently, rotating Brian Pothier, Tyler Sloan, and Karl Alzner (and not all due to the recently-served Mike Green suspension).  But differences in skating abilities and the ability to rest guys may suggest sticking with such a rotation.

4.  Scoring depth.  For sure, the Caps are still the class of the league offensively.  But in the last five contests, the team's third line has scored 2 of the team's 23 goals.  (Reborn sniper Boyd Gordon, however, has two himself during that span.)  While Craig Laughlin may have called Jason Chimera's blast from the left circle last Friday "Bobby Hull-ish!," the third scoring trio, in particular a struggling Brendan Morrison (2 goals, 5 assists, and just 17 shots in his last 15 GP), is going to have to be a little more productive to cause concern for opposing coaches and potentially create more favorable match-ups for the top two lines.

So while we continue to celebrate the unprecedented success of Les Capitals, these trends give us something to chew on for the remainder of the week.  I'm not at all suggesting that this team needs to lose a game to get back on track:  these Caps have already lost big games and know in their heads what it takes to avoid it.  Elite teams find a way to make timely adjustments, to prune mistakes before they become ugly, deep-rooted weeds in the Garden of Eden that is this Caps season-to-date.