The Capitals got a bit of a reprieve from the NHL's schedule makers last week after the Winter Classic, but beginning Tuesday in Florida, they must pick up the pace again with a hectic slate that is made up predominantly of road contests.
Washington will play three games in the next four days, four in the next six (or five and a half, considering that Sunday is a 3 p.m. start) and of the nine games to be played prior to the All-Star break, six will come on the road. It's a prime chance for the Capitals to pick up points and try to move up the Eastern Conference ladder.
"We have to grind it out and try to win a game 2-1, 3-2, which is what we've been doing," Karl Alzner said. "We're turning into more of a team that, I think [I] probably shouldn't say [we're] built for the road, but can do damage on the road. We're not going to do anything special; we might bore a couple teams out there, but that's fine with us -- we want those points."
Prior to Monday night's games, the Capitals sit in fifth place in the East with 54 points. But while they are fighting for the Southeast Division lead and a higher ranking, they're only eight points ahead of Carolina (46), which is in ninth place and out of the playoff picture. The proximity of teams in the standings places added significance on each game for the Capitals now -- particularly those against Florida and Tampa Bay -- with the lead in the much-improved Southeast up for grabs.
"Now that every team has caught up to us in games played, now we really see where we stand," Alzner said. "We were talking about it earlier, that we're only [eight] points out of ninth place right now with Carolina, and that's kind of scary. To be that close to being out of the playoffs, which is not somewhere that we want to be, so we've really got to make sure that we keep pace with those top teams right now."
In situations like this one, Coach Bruce Boudreau said he doesn't have to remind the players too much of what is at stake with teams shifting up and down the standings following every outcome.
"It's not a runaway, that's for sure," Boudreau said. "The games that we're playing, every one means something. It's not like Florida's 40 points behind or your next nearest competitor is 40 points back....I don't know if it's any easier to motivate, but there should be a lot of self motivation rather than relying on me to motivate them."