Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin thrilled hockey fans recently by becoming the eighth National Hockey League (NHL) player to score 700 career goals. There’s even talk Ovechkin could break Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 career goals.

But all the excitement about Ovechkin has hidden a disturbing fact: The Washington Capitals are not playing very well.

The Caps started the 2019-2020 season fast. On December 27, their record was a league-best of 27-7-5 (27 wins, seven losses and five overtime losses). Since then, however, Washington’s record has been a so-so 13-12-1. (Check today’s sports section to see how the Caps did last night against the Philadelphia Flyers.)

There are several reasons for the Caps’ not-so-great play. Their main goaltender, Braden Holtby, has not been sharp between the pipes. This season, Holtby has stopped only 89.8 percent of the shots on the Caps’ net. Three years ago, he stopped 92.5 percent of the shots.

That may not seem like a big deal, but do the math. An NHL goaltender may see 100 shots on net every three to four games. If he stops only 90 of those shots instead of 92 or 93 of the shots, that’s a difference of two or three goals every three or four games. That could be the difference between winning or losing a couple of close games.

Of course, it is not always the goalie’s fault. The Caps defense has been sloppy at times. That may be the reason they traded for San Jose Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon. He may help to strengthen Washington’s blue line.

Finally, the NHL regular season is long: 82 games stretched over six months. Even the most talented teams have times when they are not playing their best hockey. Some fans may think the Caps will “turn it on” for the NHL playoffs.

I’m not so sure. As kids who play sports know, the games and all the practices are about developing good habits. Players, from the pros to the playgrounds, try to get in the habit of always hustling, always trying their best, always being focused on the game so when they are in a big game they don’t have to do anything differently.

It’s the same outside of sports. Good study habits — doing your homework every night, paying attention, reading instead of playing video games — help kids become good students and do well on tests.

It’s time for the Caps to get back to the good habits — hustling, putting solid checks on their opponents and playing heads-up defense — that they showed earlier in the season.

If they don’t, Washington players may find when the playoffs come around they are in the habit of losing.