To be certain, there’s plenty of hockey left to be played — there are 53 games remaining in the regular season — and the races in both the conference and division are tight, allowing for swings up and down the standings on a regular basis. But even though they are two points away from eighth in the East, the Capitals are feeling the urgency to string a few wins together in order to make up some ground lest they slip behind the pack.
“We have to win. I don’t think anyone likes to look at the standings and see where we are. It doesn’t matter how tight they are, we’ve got to take care of our business now,” Jason Chimera said. “We need to get back into it and get back to playing the way we can right from goalie on out. Our best players have to be our best players. You can’t win two and lose two and be satisfied with that.”
With a meeting Thursday at Southeast foe Winnipeg, there’s no time like the present for the Capitals to bounce back from their latest ugly loss. There’s a different divisional landscape this year with the Florida Panthers on top with 38 points and the Jets occupying second place with 32.
Winnipeg has been on a bit of a roll since the Capitals last visited Manitoba back on Nov. 17. In 11 games since that meeting, the Jets are 7-3-1, and on Tuesday night they defeated league-leading Minnesota, 2-1. A third of the way through the season, it is clear that the final year of the Southeast (given the realignment plans) won’t provide an easy path for the Capitals.
“Usually we’ve got a pretty big lead on this division,” John Erskine said. “All the teams are so good [league-wide] you can’t let points slip away. When it comes down to the last five games of the year we don’t want to be in [a situation] like we were five years ago.”
Back in 2007-08, the Capitals won 11 of their final 12 games to secure a playoff berth after rallying from last place in the conference earlier in the season. But that was a younger team, looking for its first taste of success, and the circumstances surrounding the team were not what they are now.
It was a different, less experienced group with far fewer expectations from those facing this year’s Capitals squad, which was predicted by some in the preseason to reach the Stanley Cup final this spring. The players who took part in that race to the postseason five years ago would prefer to win at this time of the year and avoid needing the heroics.
“We’ve got to find a way to get more than two wins in a row,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “Put a little streak going. I think it’s very important right now. I know it’s tight but obviously we haven’t been in this kind of situation since the first year I got here [the 2007-08 season] and every game is important for us. We have to start playing better. It’s like a fight for survival.”