For a team that’s played without Nicklas Backstrom all season, and is just starting a weeks-long stretch without T.J. Oshie, the Capitals are doing their part to buy themselves some standings space.
With a 2-0 win over the Coyotes on Friday at Capital One Arena, the Capitals improved their record to 5-0-3 through the first eight games of the season. And after the first two-plus weeks of the year, the Capitals have yet to leave a game without earning at least one point.
Through roughly 10% of the season, the Capitals are in second place (behind the unbeaten Hurricanes) in the Metropolitan Division. While monitoring the standings this early in the season is doing far too much, a nice start to the year is what the Capitals needed without some of their best players.
“It’s easy to not get off to a great start and tell yourself there’s plenty of time to make it up,” defenseman John Carlson said. “But I think it’s important, it’s more fun coming to the rink when you’re winning. I think from a chemistry and morale standpoint, it’s nice to get all the guys together. I think it’s important for us to do good all the time, but certainly at the beginning of the year, I feel like it just gets you started on the right foot and makes you hungry for more.”
Last year, the Capitals earned points in their first nine games of the season before they lost to the Bruins in regulation. Now, they’ve earned 13 points out of a possible 16 before a grueling November is set to begin.
They’ll play the Lightning and Panthers on the road next week, host the Penguins for the first time and head on a west coast swing near the end of the month before ending November with three games against the Panthers, Hurricanes and Panthers once again.
"It was a good month,” defenseman Justin Schultz said. “Obviously not losing in regulation, it's nice. It's a good start for us. obviously still got to work on some things. Got some injuries right now, it's tough, but just sticking with it and perfecting our systems, coming to the rink every day working hard and not slowing down here."
Without Backstrom in the lineup, the Capitals were able to pull through with elite-level scoring from their top line and key minutes from younger players like Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre. Now without Oshie for a few weeks, and potentially Nic Dowd, the team’s depth will certainly be tested in the coming weeks.
That is precisely why wins against teams like the Coyotes, no matter how much of a slog the game appeared to be, cannot be discounted for this team early in the season. They’ve got one of the league’s oldest rosters and with an Olympic Break in February looming, one where some of the team’s best players will be not just participants, but key contributors, buying some cushion early in the season is arguably more important for the Capitals than for other teams in the league.
All of that is in the future, at least for now. The important part for the Capitals is that they’ve played well, haven’t reached their ceiling with a few key players out of the lineup and still have room to grow entering the winter months.
“I think we’ve done a good job with momentum and I think we can play a lot better too,” Carlson said. ”So that’s also a good sign I think for us to keep putting the work in like we have.”