Capitals are just mediocre at midpoint of season

January 2

Alex Ovechkin comfortably leads the NHL with 30 goals despite not having scored in a season-high four straight games.(Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

Based on the Washington Capitals’ record through 40 games, they are decidedly average — with 20 wins and 20 losses (five of which have come in overtime).

Alex Ovechkin’s torrid goal-scoring pace and the vaunted power play have buoyed the Capitals, but inconsistent efforts have served to weigh them down. Their grasp on second place in the Metropolitan Division, where only six points separate them from sixth, has become tenuous after closing out 2013 with five losses in seven games.

“If you look [at] all [of our] games, the start of the season was not the kind of start that we want, but I think the whole situation is that we just keep playing and keep going up,” said Ovechkin, who comfortably leads the NHL with 30 goals despite not having scored in a season-high four straight games. “Right now, everybody knows how we can play, and I think we don’t show our best hockey yet.”

Coach Adam Oates simply called his team’s play “OK,” though he added that there have been signs of inspired play “at times” — particularly over the past month.

Oates was quick to point out that the one area in particular that needs vast improvement is the Capitals’ play in the defensive zone, which has been a source of frustration throughout most of the season. Washington has failed to break the puck out cleanly with any sort of consistency, stunting forward momentum before it can even begin.

“We’ve done a better job, we have, and I told the guys that [Wednesday],” Oates said. “But we have to become automatic in our end. And we’re not.”

Working in the Capitals’ favor is that they still have an entire second half of the season to shore up the finer details of their game, and they are confident that their best hockey is yet to come.

“We’re playing all right, but I think we still have a lot to do,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “It can only get better from now on, and hopefully we’ll realize that.”

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