There was a time a few short years ago when I referred to the Washington Capitals as the "Scrapitals." I meant it as a compliment in that they worked hard, and even though the standings didn't reflect it, that ethic made them a tough opponent almost every night despite a roster that was thin in the upper-end talent department.
My nickname for the Capitals did not mean they were a collection of bodies rescued off the scrapheap. On the contrary, several players from those teams are now pivotal members of a formidable and legitimate contender to reach the Stanley Cup Final this spring.
On Saturday, I watched the Capitals dismante the Thrashers, 8-1, in Atlanta. I was positioned between the benches for that one, getting an up-close glimpse of a wildly talented and confident bunch from Washington. The win pushed the Southeast-leading Capitals to 9-1 against their division.
It's easy to characterize Caps vs. Thrashers as
McPhee also signed Steckel and another versatile depth player,
That's what drew me in while watching the Capitals against the Thrashers. Sure, Semin had two goals and Backstrom had one, but Steckel owned the faceoff circle like he has all season as the team's top draw man. Laich laid out to keep a play alive down low, diving to win a battle even though the score was 4-1 at the time. Chimera chased down pucks all night, eventually netting his first goal as a member of the Capitals. Collectively, they continued to work the walls and make smart, small-area hockey plays.
In getting up close to the Capitals, I witnessed a team that has all the pieces to compete far outside the Southeast. Its scrappiest pieces were forged during difficult times that no doubt steeled them for the more difficult battles ahead.