Washington Capitals Take Division Lead

Robert McGeeSenior Writer IFebruary 7, 2008

The Washington Capitals beat the Philadelphia Flyers last night and now lead the Southeast Division. Like a bat out of hell, the team climbed from last place in the division to first.

They have accomplished this with a very young team, a brand new coach, and one of the lowest payrolls in the league. Their story so far has been nothing short of inspirational.

But while Washington is enjoying first place for the moment, other teams like the Carolina Hurricanes still have something to say about whether or not the Capitals will be in first at the end of the season.

Speaking of like a "Bat Out of Hell," is there a better player in the NHL right now than Alexander Ovechkin? The Russian superstar leads the league with 46 goals in just 55 games and has 73 points overall. He plays defense, he hits...he does it all. You don’t see him taking many, if any, shifts off and he never gives up on a play.

Washington’s total salary cap hit amount this year is just over $30 million. Compare that with the Hurricanes $46 million and maybe we can see why Jim Rutherford keeps using the word "underachieving" when describing his team. Watch out next year though when Ovechkin’s new contract kicks in at about $9 million per year.

After reading a few message boards last night, it seems like some Caniacs are pretty much ready to throw in the towel and want Rutherford to go into sell off mode. That means the team would start trading veterans to contenders for some prospects or draft picks. While that is a good strategy for bottom dwellers, I think it’s too early for that right now.

The optimist in me still believes that the right trade acquisition could help turn this team around. As unlikely as it seems at the moment, they could get hot and win a few games in a row. Then anything can happen. I could be wrong though!

It looks like Jeff Hamilton will replace the injured Chad LaRose in the lineup, at least for now. He was practicing with the starters on the powerplay yesterday.

The alternative would be to recall Brandon Nolan. Nolan brings more of a physical edge to his game, but Hamilton probably should have more offensive upside. The Hurricanes have to pay Hamilton one way or the other, so they can save a few bucks if they don’t recall Nolan.

Carolina will make the short flight to Washington after practice today to take on the first place Caps on Friday night. Will they bring their A-game with them? More opinionated analysis later.