At the Christmas break, the Washington Capitals currently sit fourth in the Metropolitan Division. Washington, however, has played only 32 games, tied for the fewest in the NHL. The natural assumption some may have is that once the schedule begins to balance out, the Caps will climb the standings.

We are about to find out if that's the case.


Washington is heading into what may be the most critical stretch of the season with 12 games in a period of 21 days. Seven of those games come against Metro opponents.

Given the Caps' history, most fans won't care where Washington finishes in the standings. All that matters is reaching the postseason. Sitting fourth in the division, however, is a precarious position. If the Caps struggle in this upcoming stretch, we won't be talking about whether the Caps can make a deep playoff run, we will be talking about whether Washington is in danger of missing the playoffs altogether.

And for anyone taking too much comfort in the fact that Washington has played only 32 games, you know who else has 32 games? Columbus, who currently sits atop the entire NHL standings with 50 points.

Is Washington still among the top teams in the league? Find out here in this week's NHL Power Rankings.