BY MELISSA ZIELINSKI
Watching a hockey season unfold is much like watching somebody put together a puzzle for the first time, filled with curiosity and intrigue. The Washington Capitals 2011-12 season has been no different. This week’s news is just one example.
Monday morning the Caps found themselves atop the Southeast Division; by the night’s end they had slipped to second place – compliments of a 3-2 shootout loss by the Florida, stealing a point that placed the Panthers in first again.
“Once you get there, it’s just as easy to fall out,” forward Mike Knuble said.
Then on Tuesday morning, Washington’s general manager had more news, Mike Green was undergoing surgery in St. Louis and that the team was going to “be real careful” with Caps’ point-leader (42) Nicklas Backstrom’s recovery and eventual return.
But the Caps’ have shown resilience in coping with these less-than-desirable circumstances.
Blueline call-up Dmitry Orlov’s quick development has been crucial.
“Mike went down early and we gave Orlov a chance,” said McPhee. “He’s actually exceeded our expectations. We thought he’d need a full year in Hershey and he sort of expedited his development process and he’s playing very well for us.”
Orlov scored his first National Hockey League (NHL) goal of the season in Sunday’s win against Carolina. It was also the game-winner in a nail-biter of a division battle. As for fellow rookie Tomas Kundratek –
“Kundratek is in sort of the same situation right now, we’ll see how he comes along,” McPhee said.
And while it’s been no secret that the Caps’ home success has not translated well on the road, winning three of four games to close out their homestand has been vital in establishing what is predicted to be an ongoing battle for first.
“We’ve done a great job of maximizing the points at home because we haven’t gotten them on the road,” Knuble said.
As for Wednesday and what lies ahead, taking six of eight points as they hit the road should give the Capitals the winning attitude they need as they head to Montreal, Carolina and Pittsburgh.
“Winning is contagious,” Jeff Halpern said. “When you’re winning, it’s easy to win.”
Winning also happens to be a piece of the puzzle that Washington must see more of if they want to see a successful playoff run as the finished product.