The Washington Capitals
are in foreign territory these days. In the last few years, by now they've either had a playoff spot locked up or were close to doing so.
This season, though, they're one of the teams fighting and clawing to hold onto a spot in the top eight in the conference. Checking the standings and the previous night's results are the first thing some of the players do every morning -- or even sooner.
"I do it before I got to bed," Capitals center Mathieu Perreault
told NHL.com. "I see all the games, what happened, see where we're at and see where other teams are at. This is the time of the year you have to keep a close eye on your opponents. And for sure, I look at the standings every day."
The Capitals enter Thursday's game eighth in the conference with 80 points, the same as ninth-place Buffalo, and five points behind Southeast Division-leading Florida.
Rather than worry, though, the players are embracing the challenge, and believe it will make them even better when the postseason begins.
"The last two years we've been kind of cruising, waiting and seeing what everyone else is doing," forward Mike Knuble
told NHL.com. "I have to believe (their spot now) makes your team sharper from being on every night. I don't think you tire out, I don't think you're worn out. … If you're lucky enough to make the playoffs I don't think you're worn out. By the time you get there, you're hopefully already in that frame of mind, and maybe you can take it up another notch in the playoffs."
Perreault agreed, saying that after recent playoff disappointment, shifting into that must-win mode now could help in the long run.
"If you look at the last few years, we're just sitting there wondering who we're going to play in the first round," he said. "When the playoffs would start, maybe we wouldn't be as sharp as we could. This year it's going to be a battle to the end, so when the playoffs start we'll be in the playoff mode and that'll be a good thing for us."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK