On March 19 the Washington Capitals lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins and fell to 12-16-1.
Their 25 points made them second-to-last in the Eastern Conference, seven points out of the last playoff spot.
Since that night, the Capitals have won 11 of their 13 contests, and are currently riding a seven-game winning streak.
They now find themselves four points ahead of Winnipeg for lead in the Southeast Division.
When the hot streak began, the Capitals had a 6.2 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Sports Club Stats. After they beat Tampa Bay on Saturday, the Capitals chances increased to 92.1 percent.
Alexander Ovechkin has been a large reason for the streak. He is the leading goal-scorer in the NHL with 27 goals, and is on the short list to win the Hart Memorial Trophy which is given to the NHL’s most valuable player.
Before the hot streak began, Ovechkin received much criticism from fans and hockey analysts, being called “washed up.”
Now he is one of the hottest players in the league, scoring 15 goals in the Capitals’ last 13 games. Ever since March 5, Ovechkin has netted nine power-play goals, more than any other player has all year.
The man who deserves the most credit for helping Ovechkin find his groove is new head coach Adam Oates. Oates, a former star for the Washington Capitals, took over after Dale Hunter stepped down at the end of last season.
Despite a rocky start, the players are responding well to his style.
Oates has helped turn the Captials’ power-play — which ranked 16th and 18th in the last two years — into the best in the league, converting on 25.5% of their opportunities.
But Ovechkin isn’t doing it all on his own.
The Capitals are the only team with three players ranking in the top 15 for points. Accompanying Oveckin on the list are centers Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro. Neither center has a problem distributing the puck, and each ranks in the top 10 for assists.
With the season ending on April 27, the Capitals look to be one of the hottest teams heading into the playoffs.
Not everything is sunshine and roses for the Southeast Division leader though.
The Capitals’ lackluster defense is the main reason for concern. In their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, the Capitals got off to a quick 5-1 lead before the Lightning scored four goals, sending the game into overtime.
The Capitals’ defense ranks 20th in goals against, and is second-to-last in penalty kill percentage. Goaltender Braden Holtby ranks 31st in goals against, and comes in at 2.72 goals per game.
The saying goes “defense wins championships” — and the Capitals have one of the worst defenses among current playoff contenders.
Regardless, a seven-game winning streak is hard to ignore, and the Washington Capitals are succeeding because of their star players.
Perhaps 2013 will be the year when the Capitals finally break through and make it all the way.