For only 18 games into the season, the Capitals have managed enough turnarounds and contradictions to rival the drama you’d get watching The Bachelor. (Before you ask, my roommates watch it. I just happen to be in the room.)
The team’s consecutive two wins have the locker room in a lighter mood. Transitioning from writing about a team that doesn’t win to a team that wins sometimes begets a new question: will there come another transition, from a team that wins sometimes to a team that wins most of that time? Is this roster built for that? Or, in a few games, will I go back to writing about how too many penalties are suffocating the team, will they ever learn, and possibly investing more time in researching the promising career of Seth Jones?
I’m already having fun looking at how the storylines have changed from the beginning of the season till now.
Then: The Capitals’ special teams are bad.
Now: Their power play is good—2nd in the league good.
Then: Their goaltending needs to be better.
Now: Their goaltending is better.
Sometime before the Capitals’ 3-0 win Tuesday against Carolina: The Capitals miss Bruce Boudreau and Alexander Semin.
After Tuesday’s win: The Capitals actually don’t need Semin.
The never-ending storyline: Alex Ovechkin is in decline. Alex Ovechkin is back. Alex Ovechkin walks away from a game following his hat-trick magic with fewer shots on goal than Joel Ward. So is he in decline or back? It’s … an enigma (sorry, couldn’t resist).
OK, maybe these are slight oversimplifications. At one point in the season, the Capitals had nowhere to go but up. It makes sense that time would help the Capitals’ power play, and, while the Capitals may not need Semin specifically, someone equal to his talent level in a top-six forward position certainly wouldn’t hurt the roster.
Speaking of this roster, it still has holes. But it seems from what I’ve heard and read in media coverage that Oates’ system is well suited to cover a multitude of roster sins. It’s like the New York Yankees going nameless on the back of their jerseys—the system and team is collectively more important than the individual’s particular skills. The Capitals finally played well enough over the past two wins for me to begin seeing how that looks in reality, not just in theory.
What’s more, the players appear to like the system. They deserve credit for the improvements they’ve made so far. As an outsider, it’s hard to know how much stock to put in a team meeting and a team dinner, but it certainly seemed to help the Capitals.
But it’s a much longer road to the postseason, and faith that you can make a decent showing is going to require winning against teams like Pittsburgh and Boston.
And when the most prevailing sentiment among your fan base is heartbreak, you’re going to have to work extra hard if you want to convince them something about this year is any different.