...the rest of the Southeast Division is better.
Last season through 67 games, the Caps posted a 45-13-9 record, good for 99 points on their way to the Presidents Trophy. In that record, the Caps were 15-2-0 against the Southeast Division.
Fast forward to this season. After 67 games the Caps are 37-20-10, good for 84 points, 15 behind last year's pace. But instead of posting a .882 winning percentage against the Southeast Division, the Caps are 12-6-2 (a .650 winning percentage, based on points available) thus far within the division. Although this year's team is only four points behind last year's club against the Southeast at comparable points of the season, the Caps have played three more games so far this year against the Southeast through their 67-game total than last year's team played over the same number of total games. The Caps are on a pace to earn 31 points against the Southeast this season. Last season they earned 40 (19-3-2).
At this point last season, the four teams behind the Caps in the Southeast Division standings were all wallowing at 65 points or fewer. This year, Tampa Bay is at 82 points, Carolina is at 71, and only fourth and fifth place Atlanta and Florida are at 65 points or fewer. Tampa has improved significantly. Carolina is back to being "Carolina," a team that seems to always challenge for a playoff spot despite the attempts of many to write them off. Atlanta looked to be an improving team that has faded of late. Only Florida seems not to have improved enough to make a dent in the division dynamics.
The Caps have had many struggles this season, many of their own making. But one thing over which they have had no control and which has eaten into their ability to earn standings points this season is the improved play of the teams competing with them in the Southeast Division. Perhaps it will make the Caps a more formidable post-season team for having gone through the test.