It might have taken them three quarters of the 2013 season, but the Washington Capitals have finally taken control of the Southeast division.
On Sunday, the surging Caps beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-2, and took over sole possession of first place in the Southeast division for the first time all season. The Caps' dreadful 2-8-1 start to the season now seems like a distant memory.
Over their past 10 games, no team in the NHL has been as hot as the Caps. Washington is 8-1-1 in its last 10 games. Only the San Jose Sharks, with an identical 8-1-1 mark, have been that hot. With a four-game winning streak, the Caps and the St. Louis Blues have the longest current winning streaks in the NHL.
At the center of this heat wave has been Alexander Ovechkin. Many of us—myself included—really thought Ovi's best days were behind him. Well, we were all wrong.
During the Caps' 10-game blitzkrieg to the top of the Southeast division, Ovechkin has scored 13 goals, had six assists and he is now tied with Steven Stamkos for the NHL lead in goals scored. Ovi is on such a tear that not even interference from the Lighting bench in the waning moments of the game on Sunday could prevent Ovi from scoring an empty net goal.
But the Caps have certainly not been a one-man show during the past couple of weeks. Nicklas Backstrom has 13 assists over the past 10 games, and he has been paired up with Ovechkin quite a lot.
Is there any coincidence that Backstrom has the same number of assists over the past 10 games as Ovi has goals?
Marcus Johansson has 10 assists over those past 10 games. Naturally, he has been playing a lot on the Caps top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom.
Mike Green has six goals over the past 10 games, and he has reminded everyone just how dangerous an offensive threat he can be when he is healthy.
Without question, the Caps have gotten contributions from many of their top players as they have surged to the top of the Southeast division. But with just nine games remaining in the regular season, it is safe to say the Caps are in the home stretch of the season.
Now that the Caps have rounded the final turn, the big question is which of their players has to get hot down the home stretch to finish what would be an amazing turnaround of a season?
While Ovi, Backstrom, MoJo and Green have done a fantastic job in putting the Caps in a position where they control their own destiny, the Caps will need others to step up and contribute more than they have if the Caps hope to recapture the Southeast division title and to advance deep in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Which players need to get hot for the Caps during this stretch run?
Here are three who come to mind.