The Capitals have not just been beating teams lately, they’ve been destroying them.
Sunday’s 5-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings marked Washington’s 15th win in their last 18 games. In that stretch, the Caps have scored five or more goals 11 times and allowed two goals or fewer 11 times. They have chased six goalies since the start of the calendar year.
When you look at what they’ve done at home, it’s even more dominant. In their last eight home games, Washington has scored at least five goals in each game and have outscored opponents 43-11.
Marcus Johansson credited that killer instinct to “the competiveness in the whole group. No one’s satisfied. We want to keep going. We want to show that we’re a great team and what we can do.
“That’s a good mentality we have in here and that’s what’s taken us here.”
But that killer instinct does not just carry over from game to game. It reflects the mentality this team has regarding the entire season.
The Caps were the best team in the NHL last season and cruised its way to a Presidents’ Trophy. But once again, they fell woefully short of expectations in the playoffs, losing in the second round to the rival Pittsburgh Penguins.
That’s a lesson this team has not forgotten and, though it may not be explicitly stated, the newcomers to the group can certainly feel that competitiveness driving the team.
“They definitely know when the time of the year is to win games,” Brett Connolly said. “We're obviously winning a lot of games right now, but guys know that we've got to keep playing well and keep winning games at the right time of the year.”
“I've played on other teams where you could win three, four in a row, then you could get maybe a little satisfied and feel too good about yourself,” Lars Eller said. “It doesn't seem like this team is sitting back and feeling too good about themselves because they just keep going.”
Usually when teams go on lengthy win streaks, their first loss leads to a prolonged losing streak. After things had been going so well for so long, teams begin to get careless and struggle to adjust when the pucks aren’t going their way anymore.
The Philadelphia Flyers followed up a 10-game win streak earlier in the season by losing 12 of their next 15 games. The Columbus Blue Jackets have gone 6-8-1 after a 16-game win streak.
How did Washington respond when their nine-game win streak was ended in overtime by the Pittsburgh Penguins? With three straight wins and a 7-2-0 record in their next nine.
Clearly, this team is not taking its foot off the gas for anything right now.
But there’s something else that may be fueling the players, something that the Capitals have never faced in the Alex Ovechkin era: A sense of urgency.
This is year two of the “two-year window” as famously proclaimed by general manager Brian MacLellan. Alex Ovechkin is 31 years old and the team has a number of contracts set to expire at the end of the season including Connolly, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Karl Alzner, Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt and Philipp Grubauer.
While some of those free agents are restricted and are unlikely to go anywhere, the money it will take to re-sign them will not leave enough to keep others. This team is going to look very different next season and the players know it.
“The guys know that this group here, it's not going to be like this next year,” Connolly said. “It's kind of, this is the year where either we do it or we don't.”
It’s that unspoken understanding that may be fueling the team in its recent dominant stretch. The question is, will it continue to fuel them in the spring when it matters most?
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