The Caps' 2-10-1 start to the shortened 2013 season was very nearly their undoing. It took the team almost the entire season to get back on track, and but for a rather unbelievable run near the end of the season, the Caps' run of consecutive playoff appearances would have come to a crashing halt.
One might look at the 2013-14 season, note that it is a full 82-game schedule and surmise that the Caps' margin for error is greater this season than last. As such, it would be easy to believe a similar slow start might not be fatal.
Such a belief would not be wise.
It would be almost foolish to think the Caps could get off to a similarly dreadful start and turn things around to qualify for the playoffs again, particularly now that they are in a loaded Metropolitan division and a very tough Eastern Conference.
However, I do not believe the Caps will get off to another slow start.
A key factor is the fact that the Caps have had a full preseason to get ready and work on some of their deficiencies. Beyond that though, the Caps have played more preseason games this year than any other team in the Metropolitan division except the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders.
The Caps have played eight preseason games this year. The Jackets and Isles also played eight preseason games but the Caps opposition was much stiffer, including two games against the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins, and two games against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
The additional games have already had a visible impact on the Caps. Earlier in the preseason, every game the team played seemed to go to overtime or a shootout. In two of the past three games, however, the Caps pretty much overwhelmed their opposition, including a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators and a 6-3 win over their old/new divisional rival, the Philadelphia Flyers.
The 4-3 overtime loss to the Blackhawks on Saturday seemed to verify that the Caps are ready to begin the season.
Alexander Ovechkin already looks like he is on track as he had four goals and an assist in five games.
Mikhail Grabovski had a goal and seven assists in the preseason. He was tied with teammate Eric Fehr for the NHL lead in preseason points with eight.
And perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the preseason has been the emergence of Connor Carrick, who played his way onto the team much sooner than anyone anticipated. In the past few games, I have seen him track down Jarome Iginla, score a goal against Tuukka Rask and assist on a power-play goal by Ovi.
Yes, you cannot put too much stock into any preseason and the outcome of these games means next to nothing.
But when you watch how the Caps have improved throughout the preseason—and how some of their young players have excelled faster than expected—it has to make you feel confident that the Caps might just get out of the gate quickly.
With the road to the playoffs being much more difficult this year, the Caps will need every advantage they can get.