The Caps will have to go through a tougher division to make the playoffs and then to reach the East finals. They won the Southeast Division five of the past six seasons but went 8-10-2 against the Penguins, Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Flyers and Hurricanes this year.
This week the Hurricanes signed Alexander Semin to a five-year, $35 million contract, the longest and most lucrative of the mercurial winger's NHL career. It's a bit more of a risk considering the tenure, but it's one Carolina made after Semin's strong performance so far.
Ovechkin still enjoys scoring goals, but he's no longer the kid at Christmas he used to be. The goals don't come quite as easily anymore, at least not often enough to drown out the wave of criticism around him.
Beginning in 2013-14, the Caps will be in a yet-to-be-named division with the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, Devils, Hurricanes, New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets.
Staring up at the Southeast Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes going into Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals stared up at the scoreboard at the end of the game to see a crushing, 4-0 defeat.
When Cam Ward went down with a knee injury, it looked like trouble. Neither backup Dan Ellis nor minor league starter Justin Peters was considered a bonafide replacement, but the Hurricanes made it clear they would ride with them. So far, it has proven successful.
Ten points back of the Carolina Hurricanes after Tuesday night's shutout loss, the Caps are perilously close to falling out of the race altogether as the two teams meet again Thursday.
After building up a reputation with the Caps of being a supremely talented winger with inconsistency in his game and his habits, Semin is making the most of a fresh start in Carolina.
Brent Sutter wasn't out of work for long.