Thanks to their 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes Sunday, the Capitals moved into first place in the Southeast Division for the first time since Nov. 18. The standings remain in flux at this time of the year, though, and the players understand that they still firmly mired in the Eastern Conference quagmire.
Washington’s three-game winning streak pulled it even in points (50) with the Florida Panthers, but because the Capitals have three more wins (24 to 21) in the same number of games played (43) they are in first. Florida faces Boston Monday night at home in Sunrise, Fla., though, and could move back in front. It’s possible the Panthers and Capitals could be jockeying for top billing in the division throughout the second half of the season.
While stringing a trio wins together and capturing important points against teams that trail them is a positive step, the Capitals are maintaining perspective.
“You take it with a grain of salt, the numbers put you in third place in the conference and first in our division -- we’re not naive in the fact where we feel like we had to play really well to get there,” Mike Knuble said. “I think we’ve won games but there’s always more you can offer as a team. I think all our players feel that and it’s a good thing to have that guys aren’t satisfied. Guys aren’t content.
“Once you get there it’s just as easy to fall out and we still have room to grow and we can play better,” Knuble continued. “There’s no hiding that and I think we all know that it’s something we’re trying to work on.”
These three wins have all come against teams playing in the second night of back-to-back games at Verizon Center, where the Capitals boast the best home record in the East at 17-5-1. The squads Washington has defeated on this streak – the Penguins, Lightning and Hurricanes -- have combined for a 5-13-2 record in January. And while the Capitals did come away with wins in each of the past three outings, they have a shot differential of –40 during the streak.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey yet,” Jeff Halpern said. “I think early in the year, first seven games we felt real good about it but overall I don’t think we played up to the level where we think we can be. At times we have and at times we’ve sagged a bit and we’ve looked out of place against teams. To still have a chance at a lot of goals you set out at the beginning of the year, it’s a good feeling but it’s just over the half way point still a long way to go.”