Washington Capitals land top spot in the Metropolitan Division

Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals

Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh is what the preseason pickers were confidently predicting when faced with the task of determining who would win the Metropolitan Division this season, and they may very well have all been correct. However, for the time being, the Washington Capitals hold claim to top spot in the division.

The Caps are a good hockey club. They started last season slowly but managed to pull-off an incredible late season push (15-2-2 in their last 19) that earned them a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the franchise’s fifth division title in six years. Last season’s Caps didn’t compete with the almighty Penguins for division titles, but the two clubs have always been in close competition ever since Alex Ovechkin and Pens captain Sidney Crosby entered the NHL at the beginning of the 2005-06 season.

With Ovechkin scoring at his usual pace, winning is likely. The Capitals are (7-2-1) in their last ten games and the Great 8 leads the league in goals with 17 (tied with Alex Steen of the St. Louis Blues).

Crosby began the season at a ridiculous pace – two points per game. That has slowed to some degree. Sid’s 25 points have him tied for second in league scoring with fellow 1st overall pick Jonathan Tavares of the New York Islanders. The Blues’ Steen leads the race with 26 points. Capitals’ Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom sit right behind the top three with 24 points apiece, tying them for fourth in NHL scoring.

Goaltender Braden Holtby has been strong for the Capitals. The Team Canada hopeful stopped a career high 46 shots last night en route to a victory over Western Conference threat, the Blues. The shots were plenty but Holtby’s club did a great job of protecting him from exposure to high quality scoring chances. Jay Bouwmeester of the St. Louis Blues discussed his club’s lack of quality scoring chances with media after last night’s Caps victory:

“We had a lot of shots, but we didn’t have any real penetration, or good shots. That wasn’t our best game, for sure.”

Quote courtesy of Sports Illustrated. Read full article here.

Making the playoffs has been a foregone conclusion for the Capitals in recent seasons because of their placement in the league’s notoriously unimpressive Southeast Division (often dubbed the Southleast). But NHL Realignment changed all that – now the Caps compete with strong teams from the former Atlantic Division, the Penguins being one of those teams. So far, stiffer competition has not hurt Washington.

Winning the division would be a special accomplishment for the Caps who are not expected to outshine the Penguins for top spot in the Metro over the course of an 82 game season. But experts have been wrong before. The Hockey Daily‘s own preseason rankings featured the Penguins 6th and the Capitals high at 8th. Hey, they’re pretty solid – capable of outscoring most opponents in the NHL’s weakest division.

The fans are happy too. Have a look at this extravagant beard worn proudly by an Alex Ovechkin enthusiast.