The last time the Capitals entered the Pacific Time Zone, the world was a far different place.
The world was just beginning to learn of a virus called “COVID-19,” Todd Reirden was the coach of the team and Alex Ovechkin had yet to reach 700 goals. When they left Vegas on Feb. 17, 2020, no one could have foreseen what was coming down the pipe.
That version of the Capitals was markedly different than the one headed to The Golden State for the next week, because this iteration of the Capitals are flying, relatively, as high as they could be right now.
With a 6-1 win over the Penguins on Sunday, while still absent Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Anthony Mantha and Nic Dowd, the Capitals are winners of four in a row and headed west for four games against the Ducks, Kings, Sharks and Kraken.
“I think it is incredibly important to get off to a good start in the first 20 games,” center Lars Eller said. “Like I said before you don’t want to chase, get behind going into December... Not that we can relax, but I am just really happy with how we’ve played considering all the guys that we have out so it is like everybody steps up a little bit.”
At 9-2-4, the Capitals are tied for first in the Metropolitan Division with the Hurricanes, though the Capitals have played two more games. Considering the team has been without Backstrom all year, and Mantha and Oshie for the four-game win streak, it’s impossible not to consider that a major win.
“Those guys are leaders in our room and when they are out you just try to make ‘em proud and work as hard as you can to battle for them,” Tom Wilson said. “They have done it for me, they have done for other guys when they are watching so it’s a good feeling but like I said this morning we have a lot of hockey to go. We got to keep winning. It is a full 82 games this year. It is a good start but we are hungry for more.”
The NHL will play a full 82 game schedule for the first time since the 2018-19 season, which in turn brings back the importance of being in a playoff spot by American Thanksgiving, usually a strong indicator of who will make the playoffs in a given season.
Right now, the Capitals are in the playoffs by five points with five games left before the holiday. By the time Thanksgiving comes around, the Capitals will have played 20 games and be just shy of 25% of the way through the season.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since the 2005-06 season when the salary cap era began in the NHL, 76% of teams in a playoff spot by Thanksgiving have made the playoffs. With 10 potential points still left on the board for the Capitals, the West Coast swing is certainly an important one. Out west, the Capitals will play their four games by way of two sets of back-to-backs (first Anaheim and Los Angeles, then San Jose and Seattle).
“We’re in the middle of it right now,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “The back-to-backs and the amount of games and the amount of days. Everybody deals with it, but it’s nice to get some wins and get out on the road. I think the guys will be excited to get goin’ on the road. We’ll be ready for it.”
In the meantime, the secondary scoring has picked up (Martin Fehervary, Garnet Hathaway, Daniel Sprong, Conor Sheary, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson all scored against the Penguins) which has kept the Capitals afloat absent some of their best players.
On the road for the next week, they’ll need more of that to keep their pace fighting for first in the Metro.
“We get contributions from every line, we are going to be hard to play against and defend against and matchup against,” Eller said. “And I think that is a big part of why we were so successful on the road too. So really happy with seeing that.”