You're probably going to see and hear a lot of commentary about the Caps, their less-than-scintillating start in the month of December, and the mantra of "who cares?...only the spring matters."
Well, believe that if you will, but do so at your peril.
Chances are you don't remember Semyon Varlamov pitching a shutout against the Lightning last December, or even the fact that the Caps didn't allow more than three goals in any of the 14 games they played last December. You probably can't recall off the top of your head that the Caps went 8-5-0 in December 2009.
In other words, December can be a forgettable month in the hockey regular season.
But not lacking consequence. Of the five Stanley Cup winners since the lockout...
-- Two won more than ten games in December (Chicago last season (11-4-0) and Detroit in 2007-2008 (12-2-1)).
-- Two had more than 20 points for the month (Chicago and Detroit)
-- Three finished at least five games over .500 (Chicago, Detroit, and the 2005-2006 Carolina Hurricanes(8-3-3))
-- Four of them recorded at least 18 standings points for the month (Chicago, Detroit, Carolina, and the Anaheim Ducks (9-5-0).
So far, the Caps are 1-2-1 in December and have been outscored 13-7 in getting there. Their schedule isn't especially difficult over the rest of the month. Not that any game on the calendar is easy, but the real land mines are games at Boston on December 18th, and against Pittsburgh and Montreal at home on December 23rd and 28th (the latter being the last game before the Winter Classic). The rest of the games offer a chance for the Caps to do some damage to the standings, as opposed to the schedule doing damage to them.
You can say that only the playoffs matter, but it would not be correct to say that how you get to them doesn't. Games now breed habits and trends. Counting on being able to ramp up effort and performance to a higher level in the spring than what might be displayed right now might be problematic if what is being displayed right now is lackadasical or treated as less-than-important. Other teams -- ones that might have built better habits -- will be ramping up their play in the spring, too.
By the way, one Stanley Cup winner had a lower-than-.500 record for the month of December in the season they won their Cup, 5-8-1 to be exact.
It eventually had consequences.