29-17-10. That’s the Washington Capitals record as of Monday, February 14. That’s good for 68-points, second place in the Southeast Division, and fifth in the Eastern Conference. That’s a position that ten teams in the Eastern Conference would consider trading up for, but it’s a position that is considered a disappointment for the Capitals.

There’s no doubt that it’s been a frustrating season for the Capitals as a team and perhaps even more frustrating for their superstars. With the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green failing to score at the rate we’re all used to – perception of the Capitals in the greater D.C. area is not as favourable as it once was.

So what’s the problem?

The easy answer for what ails the Capitals is a lack of scoring which, when compared to last season, is the most glaring difference. The Capitals current goal differential is +11. The 2009-10 President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals blistered opponents in the offensive department on their way to a differential of +85. The Capitals won the Southeast Division in 08-09 and 07-08 with goal differentials of +27 and +11, respectively – so it’s not as though a pace for less than 300 goals is uncharted territory for this team. Granted, they’re taking a lot less shots than season’s past. The Capitals who, finished third in the NHL in total shots a season ago, are currently 14th in the league in shots for.

Bruce Boudreau has the Capitals playing a more defensively conscious game this season as they’ve given up the second fewest goals in the East, but they’ve managed to come up on the losing end of one-goal games a total of 15 times (including SO losses). Ovechkin will hardly crack 30-goals at his current pace, Mike Green looks like he’ll post his lost point total since 2006-07, and secondary scoring has been far too sparse. Since January 1, the Capitals have won seven games and lost a total of ten (7-5-5). It’s relative downward spiral that has some questioning the team’s direction and focus.

On Frozen Blog didn’t pull any punches with their biting criticism of the Capitals on Monday, aiming at both the players and management:

The Capitals don’t just presume that an evening’s two points are theirs to lose, they don’t just execute a perimeter attack, they skate out on the perimeter awaiting pucks to come their way, with wings and centers way wide and up ice, requisite cohesion an afterthought. In years past, when they were still regular-season hungry, they would attack opposition zones with speed and cohesion, cycling pucks and engineering multiple scoring chances on many an individual rush. This season, it’s most often one-and-done in terms of shots registering on opposing goalies, and more often than that they don’t even register a weak shot on net from their attack. No psyche-breaking puck possession, no waves of quality scoring chances being engineered, no sniping from all angles of the attack. The Capitals skate with an entitlement ethos, for this is the culture management has cultivated.

The Capitals begin a five-game road swing tonight in Phoenix. As Capitals Insider reports, Bruce Boudreau believes his team can make this a successful trip:

“We’ve got five games right? A successful road trip for me would be to win four games and tie the other one, but right now we just have to start with a tough opponent in Phoenix,” said Boudreau, who was then asked about the ability to put together a strong run on the road with at least four wins.

“If we ever did something like that — it’s tough to do but not [impossible],” Boudreau said. “That would be the stepping stone that this team needed in the last quarter of the season.”

In season where snapping out of a eight game losing streak on HBO cameras and an eventual Winter Classic victory of their rival Pittsburgh Penguins have already been viewed as proverbial ‘stepping stones’ – it’s time that Washington Capitals quit searching for answers and deliver results. If one thing is clear, it’s that the Capitals are no longer beyond reproach.