4 Reasons to Believe Things Are Turning Around for the Washington Capitals

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent IFebruary 15, 2013

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 12: Alex Ovechkin #8 is congratulate by Mike Green #52 and Troy Brouwer #20 of the Washington Capitals after he scored a goal in the third period to tie the game against the Florida Panthers and send the game to overtime at the BB&T Center on February 12, 2013 in Sunrise, Florida. The Capitals defeated the Panthers 6-5 in overtime.(Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Thursday night's matchup between the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning featured two Southeast Division teams that are going in opposite directions.

The Capitals were the league's most disappointing team through the first quarter of the season, but they are heading in the right direction with a three-game winning streak.

Washington is still at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings with 11 points, but the difference between final playoff spot and the Capitals is just four points.

Let's look at four reasons to believe the Capitals will turn their season around.



Alexander Ovechkin's Early-Season Slump is Over

Ovechkin did not play well in the early part of the season and his struggles were a primary reason why the Capitals were at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings for two weeks.

He scored just two goals with three assists in the Capitals' first 10 games and was only a threat on the power play, since he made little to no impact on the team's success at even strength.

Over the last four games, Ovechkin has scored three goals with two assists, and he also has points in five of his last six games.

He's finally starting to show glimpses of the old Ovechkin that won two Hart Trophies a few years ago. Not only is Ovechkin starting to score goals, he's also being more aggressive offensively by averaging five shots in his last seven games.

Defensively there is still much room for improvement, but with Ovechkin starting to produce offensively on a consistent basis again, Washington is going to be much more difficult to beat.



The Capitals Are Scoring First and Finishing Games

Opening the scoring and setting the tone of the game in the first period really helps teams settle down and play with more confidence.

Scoring first is very important to the Capitals' success because they are 2-4-1 when they fail to tally the first goal. In the team's three-game winning streak, the Capitals have scored first each time.

With two young and inexperienced goaltenders in Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth who have failed to play at a high level consistently throughout their careers, scoring the first goal and taking some of the pressure off of them increases Washington's chances of winning.

Washington is also finishing games quite well with six third period goals in the last three games (two goals each game).

The Capitals also rank second in the NHL with 16 goals in the third period, and this isn't a surprise since the majority of the roster is full of veterans who understand the importance of playing your best hockey in the final 20 minutes.

Good starts and strong finishes are encouraging signs for Capitals fans after watching their team fail to do either of these at the beginning of the season.




The same resiliency that helped the Capitals defeat the defending champion Boston Bruins in the first of the playoffs last year by winning Game 7 on the road has been shown in the team's three-game winning streak.

Washington allowed two third period goals to the Lightning on Wednesday, but found a way to win.

Against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, the Capitals overcame three deficits, including a two-goal deficit in the third period to force overtime, where Troy Brouwer would win the game. Both of these wins came on the road, which is also impressive.

The Capitals play a gritty, physical style of hockey, and as long as they give enough effort in the defensive end of the ice, they will climb back into the playoff race.

This team knows it can overcome any deficit with the elite offensive skill in the top-six forward group with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. The Capitals are going to play hard each night, and teams won't be able to beat them unless they match Washington's high-intensity level.



The Power Play is Improving

The Capitals were 6-for-37 on the power play through the first nine games of the season, but in the last five games, Washington is 7-for-11 with the man advantage.

Thanks to their recent success, the Capitals now rank fourth in the NHL in power play percentage. The Capitals also have the third best power play percentage on the road, which is important because winning away from home is much easier when your special teams perform at a high level.

Washington is 24th in even strength goals for/against ratio, so it's crucial that this team continues its power play success because they don't have the scoring depth needed to consistently beat good teams 5-on-5.


Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.


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