Washington Capitals: Why This Caps Team Is a Playoff Contender in 2013

Jon Reid@@JonReidCSMCorrespondent IIApril 5, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23: (L-R) John Carlson #74, Alex Ovechkin #8, Nicklas Backstrom #19, Troy Brouwer #20 and Mike Ribeiro #9 of the Washington Capitals leave the ice after Ovechkin's hattrick in teh third period against the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center on February 23, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Capitals defeated the Devils 5-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Don't look now, but the Washington Capitals are atop the Eastern Conference's Southeast Division.

Favored to win the Southeast coming into the shortened 2013 season, fans around the hockey world were stunned by the team's 2-8-1 start to the campaign.

In fact, the Caps only reached the .500 plateau on April 2 when they defeated the reeling Carolina Hurricanes by a score of 5-3.

Make no mistake, however, this Washington team is still a very capable bunch.

As a team that couldn't find a way to keep pucks out of their own net early on in the season, the Caps have only allowed more than three goals once in their past 10 games.

Offensively, this team has found a way to reach its potential, averaging 3.4 goals per game over that span.

Alex Ovechkin (who has taken his fair share of criticism over the last few seasons) has risen to the occasion as well, as he's tallied 20 goals (good for a tie for fourth in the league) and 37 points. The "Great Eight" has also managed to find the back of the net in nine of his last 12 games, which has helped propel his team to an 8-3-1 record in those 12 contests.

The Caps also boast eight players who have tallied at least 15 points this season (including new acquisition Martin Erat, who played for the offensively-challenged Nashville Predators before being dealt to Washington), with three of those players accumulating at least 35 points.

Throw in the fact that the Caps have the league's best power play conversion rate, and you've got a team that is heating up offensively, improving on defense and really penalizing opponents for taking penalties.

With Braden Holtby also starting to round into form just in time for a playoff push (he posted a .925 save percentage in March and is off to a torrid start in April), this Capitals team has the potential to cause some real problems for the Eastern Conference's sixth seed, should they wind up winning the Southeast Division.

At this point, Washington just needs to improve its penalty killing, as the Caps seem to be clicking in just about every other aspect of their game.

Should the Caps find themselves playing more than just the 48-game regular season in 2013, their first-round playoff opponent better not sleep on this squad.

A Capitals team that plays to its potential and has momentum on its side may be one of the better teams in the NHL.