Wednesday, March 22 2023

Capitals raced up standings from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

It is amazing how a single month of winning hockey can completely turn a season around.

The Capitals headed into 2023 in much better shape after a December to remember. As the month of November concluded things were just not clicking for a team that was not in a playoff position.

As December approached, head coach Peter Laviolette met with his Capitals’ team leaders to discuss how staying afloat with a sub-.500 record was not going to get the job done. It was either going to be now or never for a team in desperate need of wins.

The Capitals had to deal with a losing record through the first two months of the season. But a strong 2-1-1 finish to a west coast road trip was followed by a 4-1 win over the Seattle Kraken on Dec. 9 that pushed the Capitals over the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 1.

Laviolette’s meeting must have sparked a resurgence in the Capitals locker room, as they looked like an entirely different team in the month of December finishing with a 11-2-2 record. Here are three major takeaways that led to their success.

The Great 8 leading the way

Alexander Ovechkin had himself a great December with all the feats he accomplished. The captain led the team in points (22) and goals (13), helping cement himself in the NHL history books when he passed Gordie Howe for second on the all-time goals scoring list.

Ovechkin was awarded with the First Star of the Month for his exceptional play in December. This was an impressive 10th time Ovechkin has received that honor in his career. His impressive numbers not only showed up in the stat sheet, but it also led to wins for the Capitals.

With teams having to keep a close eye on Ovechkin, it has proven vital to the Capitals offense, leading to opportunities for other players to have scoring chances. The Ovechkin-Dylan Strome-Conor Sheary line found a lot of success in no small part due to the Great 8. 
Goaltending lending a helping hand

An NHL team’s success can single-handedly be relied on by its starting goaltender. The Capitals feared for that potential downfall on Dec. 3 against the Calgary Flames when their starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper suffered an upper-body injury, landing himself on the IR.

This was not the start to December that the Capitals were hoping for but in stepped Charlie Lindgren. The backup goalie put together an impressive stretch of hockey.

During his time with Kuemper recovering, Lindgren posted an 8-2 record with a 2.02 goals against average. Kuemper is now back and healthy and he has resumed his spot as the starting goaltender. One thing for sure is Lindgren’s teammates and coaches are confident that they have a backup who they can rely on when his number needs to be called.

The Capitals goal scoring was the main story of their success in December, but one of their strong suites was goaltending and that simply cannot be discredited.  

Building off win streaks

The turnaround to the season came after December began with back-to-back losses. The Capitals then went on a season long five-game win streak where they seemed nearly unstoppable. One of their biggest statement wins of the season was a 7-3 victory on the road over the Chicago Blackhawks, where Ovechkin netted a hat-trick and his 800th career goal.

The win streak come to an end the following game after a 2-1 loss at home vs. the Dallas Stars. That one loss though didn’t deter them as Washington responded in style by starting up yet another five-game win streak.

The team was eyeing a sixth consecutive win but saw a 4-3 OT loss slip away at home against the Ottawa Senators. One thing we learned about the Capitals in the month of December is that they know how to respond.

After falling to the Senators, the Capitals knew they wanted to end 2022 on the right foot. They responded by demolishing the Montreal Canadians at home 9-2, following yet another Ovechkin hat-trick, and giving the team all the momentum it needed heading into 2023.

Although the Capitals started off the New Year with a 5-4 OT loss to the Buffalo Sabres, there were positive takeaways from the game. We saw again that the Capitals can score — they rank seventh in the NHL in goals for — and they will continue to fight in games no matter the deficit.

And so a team struggling in November is back on the playoff map in a competitive Eastern Conference. The Capitals currently hold a 21-13-6 record entering Thursday’s game vs. Columbus and are just eight points out of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Source: Yahoo Sports


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