For the past few years, the Washington Capitals have been a runaway favorite for the NHL playoffs. In fact the 2009-10 President's Trophy winners were heavily favored to hoist the Stanley Cup last season, but they failed to make it past the second round.
Playoff struggles have been an issue for the Capitals – a franchise that has yet to win a Stanley Cup – and this season those struggles are catching up a bit earlier than usual.
For the sixth-consecutive season, the Caps have been led by their fiery forward Alexander Ovechkin, who we all know is a whiz with the puck. But to earn the Stanley Cup, you need a bit more than fire on the forward lines, and that has been Washington's Achilles' heel over the past two years.
The Capitals say that have undertaken a new defensive-oriented game plan, one that they hope will carry them through to the playoffs. It may be a safer approach, but it's the best chance they've got considering their seven-game skid heading into Boston on Saturday.
They've won the Southeast Division title the past three seasons, but can they do it again this year?
Even with their seven-game losing streak, the Capitals are still atop the division standings. However, they only have a one-point cushion over the Atlanta Thrashers, and are just two points ahead of Tampa Bay. The Southeast Division is getting more competitive with each day, and the Capitals reign will become a distant memory if they can't adopt their new style.
There's no denying the Caps' talents on their forward lines. Ovechkin is backed by linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin, who can pick up some of the weight on the scoring end. Their goaltending tandem of Michael Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov is far from elite, but they are a promising pair in the league.
Putting everything together will be the tricky part for the Caps, as their division rivals will continue to contest their lead in the Southeast this year. Will this be the season that their struggles catch up to them?
Do you think the Capitals will win the Southeast Division this season? Share your thoughts below.
Thursday, Dec. 16: Which Original Six team will win the Stanley Cup next?