Caps Peaking Too Early? No, but Pace Must Be Maintained

Posted January 14, 2017

(Caps Outsider)

With a 6-0 thrashing of the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, the Caps’ eighth win in a row, folks are already muttering – maybe jokingly – that the team is peaking too early and winning so much now isn’t as advantageous as it sounds.

Technically, this can be true. Like last season, the Caps won so much early on that the later games became meaningless in the standings. Meanwhile, other teams that didn’t play as well early on, like the Pittsburgh Penguins, got hot at the right time and advanced further in the playoffs.

At no point does any team not try to play well in anticipation of putting themselves in a position to have more urgent matters later. True, that scenario can happen anyway, as it did with the Penguins last year, but that’s no coach’s strategy.

How the Capitals handle the early-to-mid season success down the stretch, however, is what matters here. Once a playoff spot is virtually secure, other teams will still be chasing for one. Not winning those games against teams playing with more desperation – and against teams that are peaking themselves – are the games that should tell us whether this team is for real or not (pre-playoffs). We’re not there yet.

The motivation to win any individual game should never be based on what’s already happened, and I’m sure the players would agree. Even beer leaguers don’t play that way. If that motivation disappears late in the season because they’ve already secured a playoff spot, they’re in trouble.

It’s true that most competitive teams ought to be playing their best hockey down the stretch. While it’s hard for the Caps to improve much on their play lately, winning and playing well now in no way is a problem, and shouldn’t in any way keep them from playing just as well later. Be worried if they’re not winning these same games in March, when things aren’t any easier.