The Washington Capitals and the Washington Wizards started their seasons with new looks and high hopes. Well, don't look now, but the pro hockey and basketball seasons are about half over. So now's a good time to check in on their chances for the playoffs.

* Capitals. I love the Capitals. Why? Because every year the Caps try something new to get better. Sometimes it's a new owner. Or new uniforms. Or new players.

This year the Caps tried a new coach -- Bruce Cassidy. But in the early part of the season, it was the same old Caps, only worse. The Caps couldn't score and even dependable Olie "The Goalie" Kolzig looked shaky in the nets. The Caps were going nowhere fast.

But now, the Capitals are one of the hottest teams in hockey. They are in first place in the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference and have earned at least one point in each of the last 14 games they have played. (Hockey teams get two points for a win and one point for a tie or a game they lose in overtime.)

The Caps even have been stuffing the puck in the net. They beat the Florida Panthers so badly, 12-2, that the Panthers' owner whined that the Capitals were running up the score on his poor, pitiful team. It usually takes the Caps two weeks to score 12 goals.

Of course, the big question is whether the Caps can keep it up and make a run for the Stanley Cup. I'm not sure the Caps have the firepower to skate with the best of the West, including the Detroit Red Wings or the Dallas Stars. But a team with proven scorers such as Jaromir Jagr and Peter Bondra can play with anyone in the Eastern Conference. With a little luck and a hot "Olie the Goalie," the Caps could make a splash in the playoffs.

Who knows? Maybe this year the Caps will try something really new -- like winning the Stanley Cup.

* Wizards. So far this season, there has been good news and bad news with the Wizards. The good news is that the Wizards are starting to win. After a slow start, they have clawed their way to a record around .500. That isn't great, but it's pretty good for the Wizards, and that record would be good enough to get them into the playoffs if the season ended today.

The bad news is that the Wizards are winning because of their older players. Michael Jordan can still play. He scored 41 points in 53 minutes in an overtime win against the Indiana Pacers earlier this month. Even creaky veterans Christian Laettner and Charles Oakley are helping out.

So what about the new, young Wizards? Jerry Stackhouse and Larry Hughes are playing well (although Stackhouse is out for a few games with an injury). Rookie Jared Jeffries is hurt and out for the season, and Juan Dixon is just coming back from injury. And big men Kwame Brown and Brendan Haywood are inconsistent. One game they are great, the next game they disappear.

The Wizards need their young players to step up if the team is going to take on the top teams in the Eastern Conference. If the new guys don't come through, the Wizards might be home watching the basketball playoffs on TV.

Or watching the Capitals play hockey.

Fred Bowen writes KidsPost's Friday sports column and is the author of sports novels for kids.

With Jerry Stackhouse, the Wizards have high hopes.Olie "The Goalie" Kolzig gives the first-place Capitals a chance to make a splash in the postseason.