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It was clear, post-game, that something clearly was not right. Despite Coach Barry Trotz claim that the game was, “a lot closer than the score” the atmosphere in the locker room seemed heavy and tense – many words unspoken until the family could close the front door and speak freely about their third shutout of the season at the hands of the St. Louis Blues.
Regardless of how you spin it, a 4-0 loss for the Capitals – their first this season — is huge, especially on the heels of eking out a 1-0 win in overtime against the New Jersey Devils who are sixth in the division. It seems that while many teams, the Penguins, the Blues and the Ducks are ramping their play up, the Washington Capitals are trending down – especially among the Western Conference teams.
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The Western Conference teams have a longstanding reputation for playing heavy, fast hockey. In fact, these teams have dominated the NHL, winning four of the last five Stanley Cup championships and six of the last nine. While the Capitals clinched the Eastern conference and are leading the NHL with 111 points they continue to struggle with Western Conference’s top 6 – the Blackhawks, Blues, Ducks, Kings, Sharks, and Stars – with an alarming 3-7 win rate. Their win rate edges closer to even when the wild card teams – Coyotes and Predators – are tossed in but at 6-7 remains below .500.
What’s interesting is that every Metropolitan Conference team has an overall winning record over the Western Conference teams – even the Blue Jackets who bring up the conference rear with a 30-37 record indicating that the west’s top echelon teams dominate within that Conference.
In last night’s game against the Blues, the Capitals learned some valuable lessons. As Jay Beagle said, “it starts with the first goal” because the first goal can so often be the lynch pin of momentum for the game. Perhaps most importantly there has to be a will to win and Justin Williams said, “I just saw them [the Blues] battling for more inches than we did. The game’s about that, the game is about little plays the games about earning your ice out there.” Earning ice is always difficult especially when facing teams in the Western Conference who make teams – including the Capitals — earn every second.
By Stephanie Judge