We're a quarter of the way through the 2010-11 season, and the Washington Capitals are in familiar territory. At 14-5-2, the Capitals lead the league in both wins and points, and are tied for second in the league for fewest regulation losses.
The Capitals penalty killers are is operating at almost 85 percent (84.1), and the power play is ranked eighth in the league, as they are converting 21.7 percent of their chances. Coming into this season, a lot of questions surrounded the Capitals after running away with last season's Presidents Trophy, then blowing a three games to one series lead to the eighth seeded Montreal Canadiens.
It's early, but so far, the Capitals have seemingly answered most of those questions.
"We're fine and I think we've been playing better lately," forward Jason Chimera said after Saturday's shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. "I think the first 10 games we got away with a few wins that we shouldn't have. The only real stinker was the [Friday night loss] in Atlanta, [but] we played really good [on Saturday]. We carried most of the play and it was a good game."
One of the questions with the Capitals was whether or not they could play consistent enough defensively. Last year, they were just 15th in the league in goals against per game at 2.77.
To this point, the Capitals have shown slight improvement, giving up 2.70 goals per game and rising to 11th in the league in that category. Chimera was encouraged by the team's slight defensive improvement.
"We're playing well defensively," he said. "A lot of it has to do with [Michael Neuvirth], he's playing really good, and when you have a hot goalie that helps out a lot, too."
Neuvirth has been essential in the Capitals improved defensive play. He leads the league in wins with 12, and boasts a .914 save percentage heading into Saturday night's game. Neuvirth has been able to bail the Capitals out with timely saves when the defense has suffered lapses.
Another concern was whether or not the Capitals could improve their penalty kill. Last year, the Capitals were a dreadful 25th in the league, with a less then stellar 78.8 percent kill rate.
Early on, the Capitals looked like the 1985 Chicago Bears on the penalty kill. They were successful on the first 25 short handed situations they faced. Naturally, they have tailed off a bit since, allowing at least one power play goal in 11 of their last 15 games. But unlike last season, they have been good at not allowing multiple power play goals in a game. The Capitals have surrendered more than one power play goal in a game just twice this season, both coming against the Boston Bruins.
"No, we're not struggling at all," Chimera said of the Capitals penalty kill. "It's just the bounces don't go your way sometimes. But, we're limiting chances and not giving up too much, so I think we're still playing well."
With the organization, and the city of Washington yearning for a Stanley Cup, the Capitals have shown improvement in the areas they need to in order to be successful in the spring. Hopefully that improvement will continue as playoff time gets closer.