- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2019

Most NHL teams aspire to be where the Washington Capitals are at this point in the season. Look at it this way: The three-game losing streak Washington just halted Sunday was their longest skid of the year.

At 25-12-4 through 41 games, the Capitals have reached the halfway mark of the 2018-19 campaign with a small lead in the Metropolitan Division. They beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 a few days after losing both halves of a back-to-back at St. Louis and Detroit. While the Tampa Bay Lightning still dominate the league with a ridiculous 66 points in 42 games, Washington is comfortably in playoff position so far.

Looking ahead to the second half, though, players like T.J. Oshie think their biggest goal should be to play more consistently.

“For the most part, we’ve found how we want to play and how we’re gonna have to play,” Oshie said. “It’s just a matter of keeping our level up there. It’s hard to do consistently for a full, 82-game season. As of late, we’ve slipped a little bit, and it seemed like in the back half of the Dallas game and then here and there in Detroit we found some of that momentum that we need.”

Coach Todd Reirden — who will coach the Metropolitan Division in the All-Star Game later this month — readily called some pieces of Washington’s game “a work in progress.”

“We’re finding ways to get through some areas that are a concern,” Reirden said. “When we have a chance to practice, we do. Today we’re working on a specific area of the game that we’ve been giving up some chances on, and trying to shore that up. It’s difficult to try to use video and practice to teach and learn and grow, but at the same time you have to make sure you’re conserving energy and doing things the right way from that standpoint.”

Thanks to Alex Ovechkin’s league-leading 30 goals, scoring contributions from the fourth line and a stellar goaltending tandem, the Capitals have relatively few “areas of concern.” Their special teams have seen better days, though. Washington’s penalty kill ranks 25th in the league (77.2 percent) and the power play, though fully healthy for a few weeks now, has only scored once in its last 31 opportunities.

“It’s a pretty good problem to have when you’re like (ranked) 10th or something and everyone’s saying that it’s the end of the world,” Tom Wilson said of the power play. “They do it for us every night and we’ve found a way to kind of keep pushing forward when things haven’t been coming easy. I’m sure it’ll turn around. They’re great players and they’ll make it happen.”

Count Wilson among the Capitals who are seeking more consistent team performances going forward.

“Every team is different, every year is different, (but) we know when we’re playing good hockey,” he said. “We gotta start to make sure that we’re doing that every night. The second half of the year is huge. It’s crunch time. It’s when the hockey gets important and you need to make sure you’re doing the right things.”

The Capitals host the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday at 7 p.m. for the division rivals’ first meeting of the season. The Flyers (36 points) sit in last place and already have used six starting goaltenders this year, one shy of tying the NHL record.

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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