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Turning The Corner?

When the Caps woke up this morning, they did so in an unfamiliar place -- eighth in the Eastern Conference, to be exact.

The question now is this: Can they maintain their pace?

For weeks I've been going back and forth on the issue of whether this is a playoff-worthy team. Well, I'm still deciding. But the facts are starting to sway me toward maybe.

Consider this:

The hardest part of the Caps' schedule is behind them (Western Canada, last week's stretch against Dallas, Buffalo and Ottawa). They don't leave the Eastern time zone again. Even for a young team with young legs, that makes a big difference, especially come February, when everybody starts to get tired.

They've got something else working in their favor: With the exception of Buffalo and maybe Atlanta, who else in the East looks dominant? Entering tonight's game against the Penguins, the Caps are just four standings points out of third place. To me, that's remarkable.

The Caps also showed me something I haven't seen in a quite a while from them on Saturday night in Philadelphia. Something good teams do on a regular basis. Despite playing for the second straight night, playing on the road, they beat a team they were supposed to beat, winning for the fifth time in six games.

"If someone would have told us that we'd be in eighth place, we'd ..." Coach Glen Hanlon began saying yesterday before cutting himself off.

We all know where he was going with that.

The trick now is to not be satisfied with exceeding expectations. I'm starting to get the sense inside the dressing room that certain players, Ovechkin, Kolzig, Clark, to name a few, are starting to sense they've got an opportunity here.

We'll find out starting tonight whether everyone on the team is buying in.

By Tarik El-Bashir  |  December 11, 2006; 12:29 PM ET
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Next: Injury Update


If they win tonight, and in a convincing fashion, I'll know this team is for real.

I don't even think I have to explain why. Tonight's game is as huge and as important as the games against Anaheim, Buffalo and Dallas. Because in the end, you only get 2 points for whoever you beat, whether or not they are above you in the standings or not.

Posted by: Greg | December 11, 2006 1:52 PM | Report abuse

I hope the team starts to buy in to that playoff mentality - it certainly looks like they are, and as a result the fans are starting to buy in as well. They've made me adjust my view that they'll merely contend for a playoff I think they can get in and maybe even win a round.

The Caps have proven that they can hang in there with the best teams in the league on any given night, Friday night's performance against the Ducks aside. Now they have to get the monkey off their back (let's call him Crosby for now) with a decisive win over the Pens tonight.

Posted by: CapsChick | December 11, 2006 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Exactly CapsChick. This game is just as important as games against teams who managed 100+ points last year.

Also, we need to learn how to beat Atlanta and Carolina as well.

Posted by: Greg | December 11, 2006 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I for one am enjoying the ride. It's great to see a professional franchise that plays like a team. And this team is the poster child for teamwork and comraderie.

These are critical ingredients to making a sustained push through the second half of the season for a playoff run.

Keep the injury bug away, continue to motivate each other and pick each other up, then yes indeed the Caps can and will make a strong push for the playoffs.

Regardless of the outcome, it should provide lots of enjoyable games and good story lines for the winter and early spring here in good 'ol DC.

Let's Go Caps!!

Posted by: kthhken | December 11, 2006 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Anybody else fired up for this game? Its been a loooong time since I woke up in the morning thinking... BIG HOCKEY GAME TONIGHT.

I cant wait for this game. I hope the caps come out swinging.

I'll be in 429... chanting:

Posted by: Go Skins Go | December 11, 2006 4:22 PM | Report abuse

This second period tonight proved perfectly why the Caps are still on the playoff bubble. They're way too soft in their defensive zone. Some of these 5-on-5 situations look like Pens power plays because the Caps let the Pens skate in, set up and shoot away. Teams should never relinquish four-goal leads. It's as though once the Caps reached a 4-0 lead, they got complacent.

Posted by: Colin | December 11, 2006 8:50 PM | Report abuse

I'm heartbroken.

Posted by: Go Skins Go | December 11, 2006 10:48 PM | Report abuse

Tonight's game was a heart breaker. I have too many bad memories of the Penguins beating us in the playoffs year after year, and this was a sad reminder of that. I'm still on the bubble on deciding the Caps' playoff merit. They still have the defensive woes, but Chris Clark is really proving himself as a playoff-caliber captain.

Posted by: feartheturtle41 | December 12, 2006 1:37 AM | Report abuse

As the saying goes "EVERYBODY makes the playoffs in the NHL" and it could be true if the Caps get some NHL caliber defensemen on their roster....PRONTO!

Posted by: caphcky | December 12, 2006 7:17 AM | Report abuse

Hey Tarik -- what would it take to bring Forsberg to the Caps? I know everyone's calling for another defensemen, but with Foppa's injuries and the Flyers' struggles it could be a time to buy low. Plus we've got Backstrom coming in next year; I'm sure he'd love to play with Sweden's best.

Posted by: Oneal | December 12, 2006 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Forsberg is one of the few players I would pay to go see. I've always loved his game. But I don't see him coming to DC. I'd be surprised if he didn't retire next summer, if not sooner.

His body can't take it anymore.

Posted by: Tarik | December 12, 2006 10:58 AM | Report abuse

After blowing a 4-0 lead and loosing to the Pens 5-4 in shootouts, it is clear the CAPS have a major problem that could hold them from the playoffs: ..SHOOTOUTS.. They are the only team in the NHL who has lost all of their shootouts (5 to be exact.) In fact they missed all but one of their 13 shots with Ovechkin scoring their only shootout goal. Hanlon needs to build a better shootout squad if he has any hopes of making the playoffs and more this year.

Posted by: Hany | December 12, 2006 11:57 AM | Report abuse

I would rather see Todd Bertuzzi than Forsberg in a caps jersey.

I would also like to add that last year the penns game would have been 4 nothing Pittsburg. At least this year we're getting points out of these games, even if we did give up a huge lead. this team will get there just give them some time.

Posted by: livinit | December 12, 2006 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Tarik, did you hear about the sidney crosby pictures in the urinals? everyone urinal (on the first level anyway) had little cards with sid the kids picture and said "I'm Thirsty". congrats to whoever executed that one. even the pittsburgh fans had to laugh.

Posted by: Cap Fan | December 12, 2006 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Nice comment, livinit, considering that several media outlets are now reporting that Forsberg might actually play against the Caps on Saturday.
I still think he's good for 50 to 60 games next season.. well worth it especially if the Flyers would pay part of his salary as the Caps do with Jagr.

Posted by: Oneal | December 13, 2006 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Any fallout from this game in the locker room? Tirades by Hanlon? Guys giving impassioned speeches? Anything to address giving up such a commanding lead on such an important stage at practice or otherwise? Or just another game, we'll get 'em next time . . .

Posted by: pepper | December 13, 2006 4:57 PM | Report abuse

I'm still fuming about this loss. As was posted earlier, it brings back way too many bad memories. To blow a 4 goal lead is infuriating - in our barn, no less, and against the team we hate the most. I don't care how many games they lose from here on out - as long as they beat the Penguins.

As for the trade talk: Bertuzzi? He's poison in this league. Forsberg? Too old and too often injured. What this team needs is a shutdown D with a mean streak. Someone like Adam Foote comes to mind...

Posted by: tokyo fan | December 14, 2006 9:28 AM | Report abuse

The defense is not good enough this year for the playoffs, unless we deal for somebody. Still, the Caps are a delight this year. A sight for sore eyes, blackened from years of watching the Skins self-destruct.

Posted by: The Defender | December 14, 2006 2:36 PM | Report abuse

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