As the Capitals embark on the final 31 games of the regular season there are still quite a few questions facing the team as they push toward the trade deadline (Feb. 28) and playoffs. Here are what I believe to be five of the biggest questions left for the Capitals to answer, chime in with your own takes and if you think I've left anything out.
Will a No. 1 goaltender emerge?
With both Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth battling nagging injuries throughout the season neither has a clear edge in the race for the Capitals' No. 1 job in net. Washington needs at least one of them get, and stay, healthy to become the Capitals go-to goalie. The good news is neither has had a substantial set-back and that their most recent absences were tied to the same lingering groin/hip problems they've had throughout the year.
Where's the offense?
The Capitals are scoring more than one goal a game fewer than they did in the 2009-10 season, a deficit that can be largely attributed to an inept power play that went 9 for 88 in the last 27 games. Putting the power play back together may be the missing piece in getting the offense back on track as a whole and the addition of Alexander Semin, who is expected to make his return after missing nine games with a groin muscle injury, won't hurt either. But one thing is certain, while the Capitals are an improved defensive team they need to find a way to at least score once in awhile to prevent 1-0 losses like the one suffered in Atlanta on Jan. 26.
Can the Capitals settle on a second line center?
Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault have been part of a carousel audition to determine whether either can succeed - this season - as a main play-maker on the second line. Results have been inconsistent for both and certainly it's not possible rule out the possibility of General Manager George McPhee making a move at the trade deadline to acquire a veteran for that role.
Where is Alex Ovechkin?
Washington's superstar started to look like himself in the few games before the all-star break, skating with power, even recording a point here and there but for the Capitals to succeed in the long-haul they need Ovechkin to make his presence felt on a consistent basis. It doesn't necessarily need to be four and five-points every game but his ability to create and control the play allows Washington to maintain possession and results in increased scoring opportunities.
Can the Capitals win the Southeast Division?
Washington has seven games remaining against divisional foes, four on the road including a very valuable contest in Tampa against the division-leading Lightning on Friday. Granted 31 games is still quite a bit of hockey left to be played and plenty of time for any team to make a run leading into the playoffs, but failing to win the division would likely drop the Capitals to at least a fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. With that position they would probably face the second-place finisher out of the Atlantic Division in the first round of the playoffs - likely either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.