Ten years ago, the Washington Capitals were on a journey from the desert of also-ran status in the NHL standings for three straight seasons to the promised land of the playoffs. It was an intoxicating period in team history, the “Young Guns” – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Alexander Semin – coming of age and learning how to win in the NHL. It was a time worth looking back on as the Caps lean into their stretch run this season. Think about it…
-- Through 53 games this season, Alex Ovechkin has 26 assists. Ten years ago at the same mark, he had 27 helpers. The difference is that this year he has 32 goals – a league-leading total. But ten years ago at the 53-game mark he had 43 goals and would score another 22 in his last 29 games (17 in his last 17 contests) to set a record that still stands for left wingers in the NHL of 65 goals.
-- The Caps lead the Metropolitan Division these days with a 31-17-5 record through 53 games. Back then, they were just 24-24-5. Sure, it was quite an improvement from their low-water mark of 8-16-2 on November 30th in that season, but it was a rest stop before going 19-7-3 in their last 29 games to secure a postseason spot.
-- This year’s Caps have four players with more than 40 points – Ovechkin, Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and John Carlson. Back then, they had only two – Ovechkin (70) and Backstrom (42).
-- Mike Green had 32 points at the 53-game mark to lead all defensemen. John Carlson has 41 points on this year’s squad through 53 games. This year’s squad already has five defensemen in double digits in points (Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Matt Niskanen, Christian Djoos, and Madison Bowey). The 2007-2008 team at the same point had only four (Green, Brian Pothier, Tom Poti, and Jeff Schultz).
-- Some things don’t change too much. This year’s club struggles with penalty killing, finding itself under the NHL’s equivalent of the “Mendoza Line” (80-percent) with a 79.0 percent penalty kill rate. Ten years ago, it was 79.8 percent. Like we said, some things don’t change all that much.
-- Penalty minutes were spread a bit more liberally back then. The Caps had three players with 50 or more penalty minutes at the 53-game mark of the 2007-2008 season: Donald Brashear, John Erskine, and Green. This year, only Tom Wilson tops 50 minutes, but he has almost as many (127) and Brashear and Erskine had, combined, back then (134).
-- Mike Green had more power play goals (six) on that 2007-2008 season at the same point as the entire Capitals defense has now. Then again, John Carlson is the only Capital with power play goals on his ledger so far (four). Green’s team also had Milan Jurcina and Brian Pothier with power play goals.
-- The goals for and against were just about flipped between that 2007-2008 team (150 for, 164 against) and this year’s team at the same point (162 for, 153 against).
-- This team hits more than that one (1194 to 1050), blocks more shots (750 to 634), but that one was better in managing turnovers with fewer giveaways (569 to 591) and more takeaways (421 to 384).
-- What this team has that the one ten years ago did not was a liking for home cooking. This year’s Caps team is 19-8-1, the 19 wins tied for third most on home ice in the league. The 2007-2008 team was still trying to find its way in rocking the red, sporting a modest 14-12-1 record at home.
In the end…
Think of it as an exercise in answering the question of whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. If you are in the half-empty category, you might be thinking that after ten years and the disappointments of the last two years especially, the window is falling shut with an uncertain future ahead for the Caps’ and hopes for playoff success. If half-full, you might think the Caps have come a long way and still have some life left in them as they try to fulfill the goal of winning a Stanley Cup. Either way, it's been quite a trip.