- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2010

On Saturday, the Capitals paid homage to the team’s past during their 35th anniversary celebration, which included a video montage featuring some of the playoff highlights of Captials teams past.

Of course, some fans watching were thinking how much this year’s edition could add to that highlight reel.

Last year’s club tied the Capitals franchise record for regular-season wins (50) and broke the mark for points (108). This year’s team is set to obliterate both marks, as they currently are on pace for 56 wins and 121 points after Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Rangers.

To put that degree of success in perspective, only two teams in the last 20 years have reached the 120-point total, the 1995-96 and 2005-06 editions of the Red Wings.

The current team’s 96 points — through just 65 games — have been matched by only seven teams in club history over the course of an entire season, and only three times since the 1991-92 season. And, this year’s team has 17 more games to add to that gaudy total.

Washington is also threatening to make this year’s divisional and conference race a landslide, as they currently hold a 30-point lead in the Southeast Division over second-place Atlanta, not to mention a 14-point lead over Pittsburgh for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals also hold a five-point edge for the President’s Trophy, and home-ice throughout the entire Stanley Cup playoffs.

All this means that any combination of three Washington wins or regulation losses by Atlanta clinches the team’s third consecutive Southeastern title, which would be the first time in club history the team has won three straight divisional titles. That potentially could come as early as Wednesday night — over a month before the regular-season finale against Boston — when the Capitals host the Hurricanes, should Washington win Monday night against Dallas and the Thrashers lose in regulation Tuesday night against Nashville.

The Capitals can also clinch top seed in the East with 22 of a possible 34 points down the stretch, regardless of what the Penguins or Devils do down that stretch. Even if Pittsburgh or New Jersey runs the table, Washington just needs to go 11-6 in its final 17 to take the East.

And remember, the Capitals just finished a 20-game stretch where they have picked up 36 of a possible 40 points (17-1-2).

One of the reasons for the success this year is the team’s depth, which just got even deeper with some of the team’s moves at the trade deadline.

Despite the team’s brightest star being in the worst slump of his season, the Capitals got wins in the first two games of their homestand thanks to goals from two of their new acquisitions, Scott Walker and Eric Belanger.

In fact, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau has a problem any coach would love to have — too much talent to choose from.

“We’ve got a lot of players here and people want to keep playing,” Boudreau said Saturday. “It’s really difficult decisions for coaches when youre consistently winning with different lineups, but everybody in that room is a real competitive player and so they want to play and when that happens, you usually find a new way to play a little better.”

Washington has also come out of the Olympic break with three straight wins — despite the fact their top three scorers have just three assists combined since returning to action after the long layoff. For a team that used to rely on their top line heavily for offense in years past, it’s a welcome change.

“I think if you look at [Nicklas Backstrom] and Alex [Ovechkin] they’re just off by like half a second,” Boudreau said of his stars. “Their timing since coming back from the Olympics has just been a little off, but you know theyre going to catch on and its going to happen sooner or later.

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