Three things to like about the “first half” for the Washington Capitals
The All-Star break, among many other things, allows fans take a look back on the season that has been while also looking forward to the “second half” of the season. For Caps fans this exercise seems to be producing a lot of anxiety. While this anxiety certainly can be justified, it is also important to be reminded that sometimes a healthy dose of perspective can go a long way. After all, on January 28th, 2009, just a few short months before winning the Stanley Cup, the Pittsburgh Penguins sat tied for 8th place in the Eastern Conference.
Given that, I wanted to take a balanced look at the team while avoiding doom and gloom but making sure to not paint too rosy of a picture either. I’ve broken this down into three things to like about the “first half” and three things that need to improve as the season moves forward. First are three things to like.
Sure, he only has 1 goal in his past 15 games but if you told me at the start of the year that Jason Chimera would be tied for second on the team in goals after 48 games (and have the team lead for much of the first half) I’d either think Chimera was going to have a career year or I’d tell you that this team should be worried about its offensive output. Turns out that I don’t have to pick, they can both be true! Despite the recent drop off, Chimera is still on pace for 24 goals and 38 points, both of which would be career highs. He also finished with 4 shots in each of the two games before the break. Chimera seems to be taking the puck to the net with more confidence and authority this season, and with his size and speed, that makes him a tough guy to defend. As if Chimera’s offensive production didn’t give us enough to like about him, there was also this gem.
There was plenty not to like about Vokoun’s play early on. And the soft goal he allowed on November 26th to Zack Kassian was a huge turning point in the game that turned out to be Bruce Boudreau’s last behind the bench for the Caps. But over the past month Vokoun has been the Caps best player. In the thirteen game span since coming on in relief of Michal Neuvirth on Decemeber 26th, Vokoun has posted a .931 save %. During that span he and the team have had a 4 game and a 3 game winning streak. When you imagine where this team may be without Vokoun over the past month, it starts to get scary. While his recent save % may be unsustainable, Vokoun has earned a lock on the #1 spot in net for the Caps at this point.
#3-Playing in the Southeast Division
Okay, so this is not something to like just about the first half, but in general. Sometimes I feel as if the mediocrity of the Southeast is exaggerated, but at this point you’d be hard pressed to find evidence to support that. The Caps are in first place in the Southeast with 55 points, 5 less than any other division leader in the NHL and 9 less than any other division leader in the Eastern Conference. Not a single team in the division is a positive in the goal differential department, an honor no other division can claim. The Caps are the only team even within the neighborhood of even in that department at -1. It may seem as if this is trying to shed a positive light on what should be an embarrassment for the 5 teams in the division but the bottom line is this benefits the Caps. We have a potentially easier way into the playoffs and we get to play 13 of our finals 34 games against our divisional “rivals”.
Given all that this team has been through in the first half (coaching change, injuries, lack of production from stars etc.) things could be A LOT worse. While there are legitimate concerns about this team moving forward, there are also plenty of reasons, including these three, to appreciate where this team is despite a tumultuous first half.
In my next post, I’ll look at three things I’m hoping to see improve as the season resumes.