Do the Washington Capitals Have Playoffs On Their Mind Heading to Tampa?

Alan ZlotorzynskiCorrespondent IIIJanuary 12, 2011

SUNRISE, FL - JANUARY 11: Marty Reasoner #19 of the Florida Panthers scores a goal past goaltender Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Washington Capitals on January 11, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Could it just be that this year’s version of the Washington Capitals are bored with the regular season?

The Capitals accomplished just about everything an NHL team could accomplish in an 82-game schedule in 2009-10 season.

What did it all amount to? After leading their first round series three games to one, the Caps became the first No. 1 seed in the history of the NHL to cough up the two game series lead and lose to an eighth seed.

Once again last night at the Bank Atlantic Center in South Florida, the Capitals allowed a team to score the first goal. The first three, actually, and then the Caps managed to come all the way back only to lose in overtime. 

Still earning a point the Caps are now tied for first place with tonight's opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

They didn't get the win but the fact that they were down three goals on the road to a divisional foe and managed to earn a point is impressive, I think. That's the problem with this team what are we watching?

The Capitals have a full-blown identity crisis. As a fan, this team is very frustrating to watch and last evening was no different. Seems foolish to complain about a first place team, but you get the feeling this team could be so much better. Don't you?

Florida scored two goals with a two-man advantage, doubling their goal output for the year with a five-on-three advantage.

The rest of Florida’s league-worst power play didn't do too badly against what was the third best penalty kill (now sixth) in the league.

The Panthers came into last night's game converting only nine percent of their power play chances but managed to go 50 percent last night. Florida was 3-for-6, including the game-winner.

This was a funny game in that the Capitals really seemed to control the game when they wanted and needed to do so. It was the lazy penalties that cost Washington the other point.

They committed the usual hooks and trips but committed them in bunches, allowing the two separate two-man advantages they converted.

The overtime penalty was a necessary evil as Mike Green hooked down a Florida forward that would have probably scored if not for Green's hook. The penalty by Green only extended the game another 1:54 seconds.

Florida defenseman Dennis Wideman scored their third power play goal of the night to win the game.

Once again the Capitals' big guns failed to find the back of the net but their third and fourth lines continued to grind. Marcus Johansson recorded the first two goal game of his career.

The other Capitals goal was scored by Mike Knubble on a beautiful cross-ice pass from Alex Ovechkin.

Michael Neuvirth making just his first start in the last six games was good, very good in fact. Neuvirth didn't allow a bad goal and managed to stop 37 Florida chances, many in close with traffic in front.

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said of Neuvirth's play, "He was really good. If it wasn't for him, the first period would have been 5-0. He stole a point for us.”

The Capitals trailed 2-0 after the first period and were badly outshot 20-7. The would trail 3-0 before mounting the comeback. The Caps were outshot 41-33 for the game.

Washington travels northwest about 200 miles to play the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight.

Both teams enter tonight's game tied for first place in the Southeast division with 55 points.Tampa holds the slight tie-break, having one more win as both teams have played 43 games.

This game may be worth more than just first place, a win by the Lightning could help provide a little more confidence for a team that can walk into their facility and see a Stanley Cup every day.

Beating Washington two straight with the next two games in Tampa may help propel a run for a second franchise cup.

The Capitals, including tonight's game, play Tampa three more times this season. All three games will be in Tampa as the Capitals and Lightning have completed the D.C. portion of their schedule. Washington was 2-1 at home versus Tampa this year.

The three remaining games in Tampa could decide the Southeast crown and be the difference between a two seed or a seventh seed.

For a team that hasn't won anything other than a President’s trophy, the Capitals seem to be bored with the regular season. The stats back it up as Washington seems to have an uncanny ability to turn it on and off.

The Capitals have earned 22 points when trailing after the first period. Their 10-8-2 mark is tops in the NHL when losing the first twenty minutes.

Yet another indication of being able to turn it on and off is games the Caps win when the opponent scores the first goal. Washington has recorded 27 points going 12-11-3 when giving up the first goal, once again tops in the NHL.

I’m sure I’m grasping for straws trying to find a reason to explain the caps lack of balance and offensive fire power that seems to be missing.

If indeed the Caps are just trying to get to April and May they are playing a dangerous game. They simply aren't experienced enough to be able to turn it on and off for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The “X” factor when considering whether Washington has this ability to play for just the playoffs is the young goaltending. Both goalies are just 22 years old; relying on them to win a Cup may be premature.

Gaining that experience for a Stanley Cup run should start with battling another team for your division. The Caps have yet to be battle tested for an entire season since Boudreau took over in the '07-'08 season.

They must come out of the gate and start faster. Allowing the first goal in 26 out of 43 games is playing with fire and trailing after the first period in almost 50 percent of your games is suicidal.

The Caps are on pace to play catch-up hockey for half of their season and regardless of youth, this will take a toll on their conditioning and eventually the health of the team.

Tonight would be a good time to get off to a fast start. Winning in regulation tonight would stop any momentum the Lightning feel they have from being tied with the Caps for the first time this late in the season during the Boudreau era.