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The Washington Capitals Will Be Judged In April, Not January

This is your daily Morning Commute post. Make the jump for some more links from around the SB Nation network:

Now that they've lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning twice in one week, the Washington Capitals are clearly making people nervous. They aren't rolling over the competition like they did last year, and in fact, they aren't even leading their division anymore. It's caused many, including our colleague Chad Dukes, to worry about the state of the team.

I get those concerns, precisely for the reasons Chad brought up. With the way this city has been kicked in the nuts over the past calendar year, the Capitals winning comfortably has become a necessity. Otherwise, this city has absolutely no team that can capture the hearts and minds of fans. 

But I also think it's still too early to push the panic button.

For one, it's becoming impossible to deny that the team's style is fundamentally different. They've become more defensive-minded, asking their forwards to sink back into the defensive zone much more than in the past. They've experimented with a neutral-zone trap not unlike the one the New Jersey Devils ran in the 90s. This kind of massive transformation just isn't going to pay dividends overnight. That would be unrealistic.

For another, seeding in the NHL Playoffs just doesn't mean what it does in other leagues. Last year, the Philadelphia Flyers got in on the last day of the regular season, then went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. The eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens went to the Eastern Conference Finals, defeating the Capitals and Penguins along the way. Once you get in, everything resets, so as long as you get there, I don't really think it matters too much how you do it.

I do wonder whether the team made the right decision to scrap their high-octane style and become more defensive-minded. I also wonder just how healthy guys like Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green are at this point. But I also think that the ultimate answer to those questions has to come in April, not January. Here's hoping the Caps figure it out by then.

Today's must-reads from around the network:

  • Casual Hoya writes that it hasn't seen a game more depressing than the one it witnessed last night against Pittsburgh.
  • Japers Rink writes that the Capitals lacked focus and energy last night against the Lightning.
  • Black and Red United continues to profile the players D.C. United may pick in today's MLS Superdraft. 
  • Hogs Haven speaks to LaVar Arrington, who had some candid thoughts on Mike Shanahan and the state of the team.
Today's must-read on the site: Jake Whitacre introduces us to American star Vlad Moldoveanu, who may be the most valuable college hoops player in the city.