Washington Capitals in First Place? Who's Behind it?

Travis LoftisCorrespondent IFebruary 11, 2008

"Worst to first," the headlines read. They aren't kidding.

Last in the NHL in late November to first in the Southeast Division by February? Who thought that would happen?

But for the Washington Capitals, it is exactly the scenario.

A record of 21-11-4 since Thanksgiving has catapulted them up the standings, and when one looks at those very same standings, one sees a tightly-packed division were the top four teams are separated by two points, and the Lightning are on the outside of that pocket by only five.

Somehow, the Capitals are also the only team who have more wins than regulation losses. Carolina and Atlanta have identical records, at 27-27-4. Florida is 26-27-5.  

One thing is certain though—if the Caps make the playoffs, there's going to be some respect for them at the NHL awards show.

Nicklas Backstrom has been nothing short of exemplary since being placed on Alex Ovechkin's line. Even before that, Backstrom was doing his part. Ovechkin's latest tear started when Backstrom was elevated to the first line. 

With his major competition being Patrick Kane, based out of Chicago, and the Blackhawks struggling to stay out of last in their division, it'll be a close race. Kane has 46 points with 12 goals, with a -7 +/- rating.  With nine goals and 45 points, Backstrom is not off the pace at all, and with a zero in the +/- column (and having gotten up to zero after a disastrous start on line two with Mike Nylander and Tomas Fleischmann), it's amazing he's up to that point.

Quintin Laing has been one of the best call-ups in the NHL so far this year. His five points in 29 games needs to be underscored by the fact that he might just be the NHL's best defensive forward, an award called the Frank J. Selke trophy. 

"Block Party" Laing, as he has been called, shows no fear to dive in front of a slap shot.  If you have an opportunity, look at a replay of the last two minutes of the Caps and Penguins most recent game in OT. A five-on-three power play was killed off by the Capitals, in no small part thanks to two successive blocked shots by Quintin.

He likely won't win the Selke (he doesn't score enough, and with previous winners being players like Fedorov, the odds are slim), but he should at least be a finalist.

If the Capitals make the playoffs, the Jack Adams Trophy should be renamed the Adams-Boudreau Trophy.  A career minor league coach who gets a chance and he's all of a sudden 21-11-4? From worst to first? Who knows?

Hopefully for Caps fans, he keeps the pace up.

There is no doubt that without Alex Ovechkin, this team would be nowhere. He's a leader, as evidenced by his patting each PKers head on that five-on-three in Pittsburgh. He leads the league in goals and points.

If the Capitals make the playoffs, this man is a shoo-in for the Hart. 

The other two trophies he's on pace for have no voters. The Richard and Art Ross trophies should be well within his grasp.

Has there ever been a year where the Capitals have had the chance to take home so much hardware?


But for Caps fans, maybe this is the year that turns it around.