The Washington Capitals are off to the hottest start in the entire NHL, and 11.7% of the way to completing the NHL’s first perfect season. The team is averaging 4.14 goals per game, .71 ahead of the second highest team (Chicago). Throw in that they are tied for fifth in goals against (2.00) and the Caps are more than doubling up their opponents on average.
Of course Capitals’ fans have been here before. The last four seasons they have won the Southeast division, with the last three seasons going over 100 points and the 2009-10 team winning the Presidents Trophy. With a roster stacked with talent, from Alex Ovechkin to Mike Green to Nicklas Backstrom, the fans in the Verizon Center expect the team to win, and win a lot. What makes this more amazing is the fact they have gone from finishing last in their division three seasons in a row to winning it four in a row.
With these high regular season expectations come even higher playoff expectations, and the Capitals have fallen flat on their face time and time again.
In the 2007-08 season the Capitals stormed into the playoffs after rising from last in the division at the midway point to beating out the Carolina Hurricanes. Unfortunately it seems all that effort in the second half of the season left them too tired, and they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round.
The following season the Caps set a then franchise record in points (108), and were able to get out of the first round, beating the New York Rangers, before falling in seven games to Sidney Crosby and the future cup winner Pittsburgh Penguins.
The 2009-10 season is the most successful season to date, with the team crushing their previous season points total and accumulating 121 to lead all of the NHL. Expectations were through the roof and many thought this was the year Ovechkin and company would break through and win the cup. Instead they ran into a very hot goaltender in Carey Price, and lost in the first round to the 8-seed Montreal Canadiens.
Last season the Caps yet again won the division and put up 107 points. They actually beat the Rangers is convincing fashion in the first round, but completely collapsed and were dominated in all aspects against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
With this recent history of performing well in the regular season before collapsing in the playoffs the Caps have become a team known for its lack of composure under the pressure the playoffs bring.
This year seems different though, mainly because the Caps shored up their defense and goaltending, and won’t have to rely on their offense as they have the past few years. Roman Hamrlik brings years of experience to the team, and Tomas Vokoun brings much needed stability in net.
With the quick start the Caps have had their expectations only rise more and more. The 7-1 beat down of a then undefeated Detroit Red Wings team on Saturday showed that when the Caps click, they can not only beat but dominate the best teams in the league.
Caps fans are ready to ‘Rock the Red’ deep into the playoffs this season, but the real question is, are the players ready too?