Are the Caps peaking too soon?
What can they do about that?
What do the numbers look like?
Through 42 games last season, the Caps had a league-leading 67 points and a league-leading +49 goal differential. They also had gone 15-2-2 over their last 19 games.
Right now, the Caps have 59 points (second in the league) and a +40 goal differential (third). They also have gone 15-2-2 over their last 19 games.
So do the Caps worry they’re getting too hot too soon?
“No, not really,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “I thought our first half of the [first] half of the season wasn’t our best. I mean, we want to get better. We’re winning games now, but at the same time we want to improve. We know it’s a totally different game from regular season to playoffs so we’re trying to prepare and trying to get better every day. That’s our goal. We shouldn’t take anything lightly, we should stay humble and keep doing the same work ethic.”
“I mean, we don’t feel like we’re peaking,” Braden Holtby said. “You go in stretches, and sometimes things go your way. I think we feel more comfortable with our game, but we’re not where we expect to be at the end of the year. Just because you have some success doesn’t mean you’re on fire and playing at the top of your game. A couple of those games we could have easily lost . … It’s not like we’ve made some sort of crazy adjustment and now we’re on fire. We felt like we’ve consistently improved throughout the year.”
“I don’t think you can approach it that way,” said Matt Niskanen. “In general, I think you play as hard as you can and see where it takes you.”
“I don’t know, we don’t really think about it that way,” Tom Wilson said. “This year we had our adversity early on. We weren’t necessarily playing the right kind of hockey, and now we are, and now we’re stringing together a bunch of wins. And you know what, we’re at the halfway point and continuing to build our game. Things definitely could be worse.”
But this hot streak will attract a whole lot of attention, yes?
“And what’s wrong with that?” Niskanen asked. “It’s just external pressure.”
Sure, but if we think back to what everyone was saying after last season about peaking too soon…
“I can’t remember what I did yesterday, but go ahead,” Coach Barry Trotz said.
“I think the difference is we’re sharing the load,” Trotz said. “I mean, everybody’s minutes are down. We’re in a stretch where we’re playing a ton of games right now in a short period of time. And everybody’s minutes are down, there’s no one that’s getting crunched at forward at 22 minutes. I mean, everybody is 17, 16, 15, 12, whatever it is. They’re not high minutes so what happens with us is we’re able to get production from everybody, you’re not too fatigued, you’ve got everybody in their roles.”
“Tell me if I’m wrong, but last year’s success came pretty early on, the first 30 games of the year,” Wilson said. “Now it’s 40 [games in], and we’re starting to really play well again. … I think honestly sometimes you see teams that had a really good year the year before, or the Stanley Cup champions, have a lull at the beginning of the next year. … Then you find out that it wasn’t easy last year, it was tough, and we’ve got to get back to what had success for us. I think we had a bit of a wake-up call, and we found out that it was gonna be tough again, and guys are starting to play.”
And I guess there are some other major differences. After 42 games last year, the Caps were 16 points up in their division. Right now, they’re a point out of first, and only four points up on third.
“The division is tough this year,” Niskanen said. “It’s not going to be easy for us. I think last year it was a little easy for us. We were playing well, we were playing hard and all that stuff, but everything went right, for long stretches of time. You can decide for yourself what happened [in the playoffs], but if we have to really battle in the regular season, that’s not a bad thing. I think that encourages good habits, winning habits.”
“Honestly, I don’t really care where we are, as long as we’re in the playoffs,” Backstrom said.
“I think we’re just working on our game, understanding there’s a process,” Trotz said. “We got to halfway. That’s what we’ve done son far. And it’s just in a different way than it was last year.”
And fans are similarly sanguine, right?