Capitals find themselves at a crossroads

Capitals find themselves at a crossroads
January 23, 2014, 7:30 am
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Oates: Caps need to push through "dog days"

Washington Capitals right wing Alex Ovechkin (8) reacts against the New York Rangers during the first period at Madison Square Garden.

(Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

Fifty games into the season, the Capitals are at a crossroads.

They are in the throes of a six-game losing streak, their longest since losing eight straight under Bruce Boudreau just before the 2011 Winter Classic.

They sit 12th in the 16-team Eastern Conference standings with a 22-20-8 record and 52 points.

They are tied for 14th in the conference in regulation or overtime wins [14], which is the first playoff tiebreaker.

Their captain, Alex Ovechkin, leads the NHL with 35 goals, but as a team they have allowed 10 more goals than they’ve scored.

Three of their starting six defensemen, Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt and Connor Carrick, are 22 years old or younger and have played a combined total of 130 NHL games.

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Their presumed No. 1 goaltender, Braden Holtby, has not won a game since Dec. 7 and their backup, Michal Neuvirth, wants to be a No. 1, “if not here then somewhere else.”

This afternoon, the Capitals will embark on a five-game road trip. Four of those teams – New Jersey, Montreal, Columbus and Detroit -- are above them in the Eastern Conference standings, and the other, Buffalo, has beaten them twice this season despite owning the NHL’s worst record.

A crucial four-game homestand follows the upcoming road trip and precedes an 18-day break for the Olympics.

On Tuesday, the Capitals made a pair of roster moves. One – reassigning rookie goaltender Philipp Grubauer to the Hershey Bears – brought some clarity to the muddled situation between the pipes.

The other – recalling Schmidt to replace Steve Oleksy – left the Capitals with the youngest defense pairing in the NHL. Schmidt, 22, has played in 29 NHL games. Carrick, 19, has played in 11.

Barring any roster moves today, this is the team that will head to Newark today to begin what could be a season-defining road trip. Do they have what it takes to stay in the playoff hunt? Is a bigger roster move on the horizon? The next eight days may provide the answer.