Some quick number shuffling got us to thinking... it's not goaltending, it's not the defense (or perhaps at least defensemen) that could spell the undoing of the Caps. It's penalty-killing (but you probably suspected that).
We took a quick look at the Caps -- the total number of shorthanded situations and the total number of goals allowed -- and compared performance to what it might be if the Caps were performing at the "median" level of shorthanded situations and goals allowed.
The difference is that the Caps total shorthanded situations would be reduced from 265 to 257 overall. The total humber of goals allowed would be reduced from 57 to 46. And the penalty killing percentage would improve from 78.5 percent to 82.1 percent.
These aren't large performance changes -- they only get the Caps to the theoretical midpoint among 30 teams. But the effect on goals allowed per game would be significant. They would go from 2.76 goals allowed per game through 67 games (tanked 16th in the league) to 2.60 goals allowed per game. They would jump to 10th best, leapfrogging St. Louis, Montreal, the Rangers, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Detroit. And they would be within a few ticks of Colorado and Vancouver.
When the Caps get into the playoffs, the teams will be uniformly better on both sides of the puck. It seems a bit of a reach to think that they can outscore their penalty killing problem. Only Nashville is worse among teams currently in their conference's top-eight. And if you think of San Jose, Chicago, and Pittsburgh as the principal competition for the Caps in the playoffs, those teams are ranked second, sixth, and ninth in penalty killing, respectively. The Caps are 25th.
That's the sort of difference that suggests the Caps will score enough to be disappointed.