By Bill Sands
This time last week, the Washington Capitals were heading north for a three-game road trip and a golden opportunity to bust open a tight race for the Metropolitan division. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers were right on the Caps’ heels, but all three games on this road trip were against teams currently outside the playoff picture. The Caps had the chance to increase their lead, and they took full advantage.
The Caps’ Struggles Against Weaker Teams
At various times this year, the Caps have struggled against weaker teams, but this time, things were different. Washington won all three games in regulation and looked like a contender in the process. They won a tight 1-0 game in Detroit, outlasted the Montreal Canadiens in a 6-4 barn-burner, and handled the Rangers in a somewhat dominant 4-2 win.
No single game was worthy of getting exceptionally excited about, but the overall trip was a promising glimpse of what we might be in for in a few weeks. The Caps looked like a playoff team: crisp passes, frequent offensive zone time, good goaltending and a consistent group effort. Over the course of three games and 180 minutes, Washington only trailed for a few minutes in the first period against Montreal.
Capitals Enjoy 5-Point Lead – For Now
As a result of the successful road trip, the Caps now have a five-point lead over Pittsburgh for the division lead and seven points on Columbus and Philadelphia. The tail end of the schedule features match-ups against several quality teams, including Pittsburgh, Nashville, and New Jersey, and the momentum from this trip is sure to serve Washington well in April.
While none of these wins was what you would call a “statement game,” the Caps have shown in the past week that they are capable of taking care of business. These are the kind of games that Stanley Cup contenders must win, and Washington took all three outings.
For a team that’s had trouble with lesser teams, this road trip is a sign that things are moving in the right direction.