But with nearly three-quarters of the season now in the rear-view mirror, do we really know who the Capitals are yet? It's tough to tell. Are they the team that roared out to a terrific start to the season, with only four regulation losses in their first 31 games? Are they the team that has rallied from multi-goal deficits to win on eight separate occasions this season, one shy of the franchise record? Are they the team with 21 road wins and the league's best road record?
Or are they the team that has given up the game's first goal in six straight games that seems to be chasing the game every night? Are they the team that has lost six of its last nine, and that needed two of those aforementioned comebacks to earn two of their three wins during that stretch? Are they the team that can't seem to put 60 strong minutes together on most nights, and only seems to dust off their playoff-level game when they're down two or three goals? Are they the team that ranks an uninspiring 15th in the league in goals against on the season, but ranks 29th in the circuit with an unsightly average of 3.45 goals against per game in their last 22 games, the equivalent of more than a quarter of a season?
Right now, they are all of those teams. But it's fair to say that what happens between now and end of the Caps' season - whenever their season comes to an end - should ultimately answer all of these questions.
Monday's matinee match in Vegas against the Golden Knights - a 3-2 loss for the visitors - offered no more clarity. Again, the Caps gave up the game's first goal, doing so for the sixth straight game. They were down 3-0 heading into the third period, and they hadn't shown many signs of life to that point. They were piling up hits, but those hits weren't part of a consistently tenacious forechecking scheme; they were delivered mainly because the Caps didn't have the puck.
As they've done so often this season, the Capitals managed to show some late fire on Monday in Vegas, with "late" being the operative word; it was too little, too late. Early in the season, Washington was the team setting the tone, the team dictating the pace and the tempo, the team putting its imprimatur on the game.
We haven't seen much of those Capitals lately.
Plenty of time remains. But the idea is to go into the playoffs with your team game humming on as many cylinders as possible, and with the team brimming with confidence over the way it is playing, and believing that it can play that way when it matters most, when the puck drops in April for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Video: Postgame | February 17
These Capitals - whomever they are - aren't there yet. They still have time to get there, and they still believe they will.
"We have no concern about anyone else," says T.J. Oshie, who scored both Washington goals in Monday's loss in Vegas. "We're obviously struggling a little bit to get wins, and to play a full 60 minutes right now, but that second part - playing a full 60 minutes - is our only concern.
"We've seen it in the past; I feel like we've won the Presidents' Trophy by 15 points or something a couple of times, or we've had a clear-cut lead and it was easy going into the end of the year. Right now it's hard, and I think that's going to be good for us.
"So I'm not concerned with where we are in the standings come playoffs. We want to get there, and we want our game going the right way before we do."
Two Shy Shy - Caps captain Alex Ovechkin was unable to light the lamp for a fifth straight game, leaving him still two goals shy of becoming just the eighth player in NHL history to reach the 700-goal plateau. Prior to his current five-game dry spell, Ovechkin scored an unsustainable total of 14 goals in his previous seven games.
Now he has the league altering start times and following him around and an assortment of other reporters - who wouldn't otherwise be in attendance - following him around and waiting for him to score his next two goals, all because the second of those two goals ends in two zeroes on his career goal clicker.
Ovechkin is already only the eighth player in NHL history to score as many 698 goals. Six-ninety-eight isn't a sexy - or "nice" - number, and two more goals doesn't change anything in terms of Ovechkin's standing among the pantheon of greats, but 698 doesn't end with two zeroes. Media and historians love round numbers, so here we are, hostages to Ovechkin's longest goal drought in more than a year - he went six straight games without a goal from Dec. 19-31, 2018.
Meanwhile, the Caps claim it isn't a distraction - and in the grand scheme of all things global, universal and galactical, it isn't - but they keep funneling pucks in Ovechkin's direction when better plays are available, both at 5-on-5 and on the power play. Ovechkin's shot and shot attempt totals over the last five games are staggering, but Washington would do better to pretend that their captain has 701 - or 644 or 529, take your pick - career goals, and to play the game on the level and instinctually, going for the best play and the best opportunity to score rather than trying to help cobble No. 699 together out of a combination of chewing gum, duct tape and spackle.
On the season, Ovechkin has accounted for 14.5 percent of all of Washington's shots on net. In the last five games, that rate has ticked up to 17.1 percent, and he has accounted for 19 percent of the team's shot attempts.
At the age of 34, Ovechkin is averaging 20:54 per game in ice time. Since the league began tracking ice time, only two forwards logged more ice time in their age 34 season: Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis skated 21:49 per game in 2009-10 and Jaromir Jagr logged an average of 21:46 per game for the 2006-07 New York Rangers. Both players put up more than 90 points in those seasons; Jagr had 96 and St. Louis had 94. Neither was a top 10 finalist in Hart Trophy balloting in those campaigns.
In Washington's 36 wins this season, Ovechkin is averaging 20:10 per game. In its 17 regulation losses, he is averaging 21:46. And in the Caps' five overtime/shootout losses, their captain is logging an average of 23:15 per game.
Ovechkin is averaging 22:21 per game in seven February games, his highest average for any month this season, with his 21:20 figure from October being the next closest. It's probably a good thing that he skipped the league's All-Star festivities and opted for rest instead.
Video: Reirden Postgame | February 17
Busted Afternoon - Matinee matches clearly do not agree with the Capitals. The Caps are now 3-4-1 in matinee games this season, and the record - within that small sample of eight of the team's 59 games this season - isn't pretty.
Washington has been outscored by a combined total of 14-5 in the first period and by 11-7 in the second period of its eight matinee matches this season. The Caps show up in the third, outscoring their opponents by a shopping 16-4 in the third period and overtime of those games.
In each of Washington's three matinee victories this season - Nov. 29 vs. Tampa Bay, Jan. 5. Vs. San Jose and Jan. 18 at the Islanders - it has rallied from a deficit of two or more goals to win the game. In the case of the wins over the Sharks and the Isles, both were somewhat rare and historic wins in terms of the late comebacks needed to earn the two points. Late Washington surges have fallen short in each of the four losses.
Finally, the Caps' single-game season high in hits for 2019-20 is 47, achieved in each of its last two afternoon games, Monday in Vegas and on Feb. 2 in D.C. against the Penguins. Washington won only 21 of 56 draws (36 percent) in Monday's game, and hits are delivered when you don't have the puck. Since the turn of the calendar - a span of 18 games - the Caps' 45.6 percent face-off success rate is last in the league.
Unhappy Trails - In their last 22 games, the Capitals are 11-11-0. They've owned a lead for a combined total of just 292:41 in those games, ranking 29th in the league in lead time over that span, ahead of only Detroit (266:53) and Ottawa (264:01).
In their first 37 games of the season, the Caps led for 976:03, second only to Colorado (1,007:14) to that point of the season. Washington went 26-6-5 in those first 37 games.
Chasing the puck, chasing the opposition and chasing the game doesn't agree with a team like the Capitals, largely because many of their core players have to absorb more and harder minutes in those situations, and because a good handful of those players have already celebrated their 30th birthdays. Many - if not all - of them would be better served by playing fewer rather than more minutes at this stage of the season.
By The Numbers - Dmitry Orlov led Washington with 24:18 in ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps with four shots, nine shot attempts and two blocked shots … Nic Dowd led the Caps with nine hits in just 10:59 of work.