Ladies and gentlemen, your first-place Washington Bears!
It's D.C.'s Capitals who are first place in the NHL's Southeast division.
But what that doesn't tell you is how they're doing it.
With fourteen players having hit the injury wire this year, and at times, nine starters being out of the lineup, and with the Caps up against the salary cap, the moves that coach Bruce Boudreau and general manager George McPhee have made have been nothing but stalwart.
Has the team been completely dominant? No, but they've been dominant enough to remain four points ahead of the rival Carolina Hurricanes. Strong or weak, first place in a division is tough, especially with the goaltending issues the Caps have had.
Summer free-agent signee Jose Theodore has been less than spectacular. An 8-6-1 record masks a .888 save percentage and a 3.08 GAA.
Long-time backup goaltender Brent Johnson has had his struggles as well. At 7-4-2, his record and stats are slightly better. But the fact that coach Boudreau has in effect gone with a platoon system bodes well for the Capitals.
It also doesn't hurt to have the game's best power forward in the NHL.
Alex Ovechkin is still a dominant player—though looking at the goal column, you wouldn't know it. His 14 goals in 26 games are good, but his 21 assists are even better.
That being said, it's the call ups that have this team in first. In his first NHL game in his hometown of Calgary, Tyler Sloan had a huge impact. A huge hit sent the Flames Daymond Langkow flying, and Rene Bourque's retaliation drew a 17-minute penalty, and a seven-minute power play. Though the Caps eventually lost that game, Sloan later netted his first goal against the Dallas Stars.
Karl Alzner, the fifth pick in the 2007 NHL entry draft, has come in, and is now playing upwards of twenty minutes a game. He's quiet in his zone, which is good news to a Caps team that in the last few years has had loud defensemen for all the wrong reasons. Through seven games, he's racked up a goal and two assists, to match a plus-one.
Sami Lepisto has been a bit louder, but his role is different. The offensive defenseman, though recently sent down, notched four assists, while playing the point very well.
Forwards Keith Aucoin, Alexander Giroux, Graham Mink, and Chris Bourque, along with defensemen Sean Collins and Bryan Helmer, round out the Chocolate Cavalry that Hershey has sent to save the Caps' season.
Considering that regulars Boyd Gordon, Eric Fehr, Mike Green, Sergei Fedorov, Chris Clark, John Erskine, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, and at-the-time league-scoring leader Alexander Semin have all been saddled for significant amounts of time so far with injuries, the fact that this team continues to play first place caliber hockey is amazing.
With that in mind, thinking about what this team can do when they get all of that talent back should lead to nothing but a happy winter, and hopefully late spring, for Washington fans, whether they're cheering on Capitals, Bears, or Stingrays.
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