Capitals are doing okay, but what’s next?

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that NHL shootouts consist of five attempts for each team. They consist of three per team. If the teams remain tied after three, the shootout continues until one team scores and the other does not. The story has been updated to reflect the correct information.


Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals has scored 33 goals this season, the most of any player in the NHL. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Washington Capitals have been a case of good news and bad news this season.

Let’s start with the good news.

Alex Ovechkin: Number 8 is playing great. The Caps’ All-Star winger led the National Hockey League (NHL) with 33 goals after the team’s loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

He also was leading the NHL with 12 power-play goals. (A power play is when a team has an extra skater because its opponent has a player in the penalty box.) Ovechkin has been a real force this season.

Their record: After Tuesday night’s loss, the Caps’ record was 22-16-8. That’s 22 wins, 16 losses and 8 losses in overtime or a shootout. Under NHL rules, teams are awarded two points for a win and one point for any loss that happens in overtime or a shootout.

So, Washington is doing okay. The Caps’ 52 points puts them in second place in the Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference.

The Eastern Conference: Before the season, some folks (including me) thought the Eastern Conference teams would be tough. But that hasn’t been the case. Only the Pittsburgh Penguins are playing like sure-fire playoff teams. Most of the Eastern Conference teams are playing okay — like the Caps. That should make it easier for the Caps to slip into the playoffs.

Now for the bad news.

Shootout wins: Eight of the Caps’ 22 wins have come in shootouts. In the NHL, if a game is tied after 60 minutes, the teams play a five-minute overtime. If the game is still tied, there’s a shootout in which players go one-on-one against the other team’s goaltender. After each team has three shots, the one with the most goals wins. (If there’s still a tie, the shootout continues until one team scores and the other does not.)

So what’s wrong with shootout wins? After all, a win’s a win. That’s true in the regular season, but there are no shootouts in the playoffs. If the Caps expect to do well in the postseason, they’d better start winning games when all of the players are on the ice.

The goalies: The Caps have three goalies. Most teams carry just two. Washington might be trying out more goalies because they haven’t found one they trust. Brandon Holtby has played the most, but Holtby has allowed more than three goals a game. That ranks 41st out of 46 NHL goalies.

The standings: The Caps may be in second place in the Metropolitan Division, but they are not a sure bet to make the playoffs. As of Wednesday, Philadelphia had 52 points, the same number as the Capitals, and five other Eastern Conference teams were within two points. If the Caps slip and lose a few games in a row, they might find themselves struggling to make the playoffs.

That would be really bad news.

Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is also the author of 19 sports books for kids. His latest is “Perfect Game.”

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