The Washington Capitals are currently embarking on their longest winning streak of the season. A Sunday afternoon win over the equally as hot Blackhawks saw that winning streak extended to eight games. This is the Caps’ longest winning streak since a season ago when the Caps’ won 14 straight games.
The timing of this eight game winning streak should not surprise anybody. The Capitals were very active at the trade deadline and have not lost since the acquisitions of Jason Arnott and Dennis Wideman. Arnott now has five points in the seven games since joining the Capitals, and is yet to be a minus player. Both Arnott and Wideman are making significant contributions to the Capitals’ anemic power play. The Caps now have power play goals in three straight games. With Arnott playing the point on the power play, Ovechkin can park himself in front of the net or on the left circle. He is much more effective in those areas.
But Arnott’s biggest mark on the team is in the locker room. He is a veteran that demands the attention of the team’s younger stars – not because Arnott himself demands that attention, but because he is a Cup winner. Arnott has achieved what the other guys in the locker room hope to achieve this season. Arnott knows what it takes to win in the NHL. The Capitals are reaping the benefits of Arnott’s leadership – no more apparent then the play of Alex Semin. Semin has been a completely different play since Arnott’s arrival in the district. He appears to be focused and determined in a way in which Caps fans have not seen. Since Arnott’s arrival to both the team and more specifically to Semin’s second line, Semin has points in all but one game. Six of those points are in the form of goals, most notably a late third period goal in Tampa to even the score and send the game to overtime. The Caps ultimately won the game in a shootout, and have increased their lead in the Southeast division to five points. Perhaps all the Caps have been missing is a veteran center for Alex Semin. Since the departure of Sergei Fedorov two years ago, the Caps have been searching for a legitimate NHL center iceman for the second line. They have found it in Jason Arnott.
Let’s not forget the play of Braden Holtby. If not for Holtby, the circumstances may be quite different. Semyon Varlamov continues to be his normal self – injured. Michal Neuvirth, who has arguably been the team’s MVP this season, took a puck to the mask in the early moments in Tampa last Monday. Down 1-0, Holtby entered the game and stopped all 21 shots he saw. Holtby hasn’t looked back. The Edmonton Oilers were victim to Holtby on Wednesday night. Holtby recorded his first NHL shutout to the tune of a 5-0 defeat. Holtby is now 8-2-2 on the season with a minuscule 1.95 GAA and a save percentage of .931. These numbers should place Holtby on the short list for NHL player of the week. More importantly, from an organization’s standpoint, the Caps now have three goaltenders under the age of 22 who can enter a game and delivery a win. For the first time in NHL history, a team has three goalies under the age of 22 with a least seven wins in the same season. Things may get interesting with Varlamov becoming a restricted free agent at season’s end? Do the Caps re-sign him long term, despite the injury woes?
The Capitals are now faced with their toughest test of the season to date. Beginning tomorrow night in Montreal, the Capitals will begin a six game road trip. This trip will include two trips to Montreal, a date with the Red Wings, the Flyers, and the hottest team in the NHL, the New Jersey Devils. This trip will likely result in either the Capitals gaining sole possession of the Easter conference, or they could fall back to the Lightning in the race for the Southeast division. There is a lot riding on this road trip. A mediocre showing and the Caps would fall back into the dreaded four-vs.-five matchup in the playoff standings. This means a likely date with the Penguins in the first round; a matchup no team wants. On the flip side, if the Caps can get seven or eight of the possible 12 points on this trip, they would likely find themselves atop the Eastern Conference, especially with a head-to-head win over the Flyers, who currently lead the conference. This road trip will be a great test for the Caps. They will know exactly how they stack up against some of the top teams in the NHL. In addition, most teams are playing at their best this time of the year, so the Capitals can expect to get everyone’s best performance. A solid road trip, and the Caps just may be the legitimate contenders we all thought they would be before the season began.
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About the Author: Jeremy is a life time hockey fan currently living in Washington DC. Jeremy also runs a Capitals blog called The Nation's Capitals where he frequently posts blogs about the state of the Caps. His other interests include music and politics. Jeremy has a degree in Political Science. Being from DC, politics kind of comes with the territory.