Craig Custance chats with rival scouts and players to break down the strengths and weaknesses of the Washington Capitals.
The theory was that once the Capitals started to truly grasp Adam Oates' system, things would take off. But nobody could have predicted the stratospheric jump Washington made after a slumbering start.
"They slept for the first half of the year; all of a sudden they've woken up," said an Eastern Conference coach.
And while more eyes are on the Penguins and Bruins as possible favorites to come out of the East, it would be a mistake to count out the rejuvenated Capitals when you consider their recent playoff experience.
"They're kind of a hidden gem," said the coach.
KEY STRENGTH: Alex Ovechkin is back to being one of the biggest game-changers in hockey. It's no coincidence that Washington's success coincided with his resurgence.
"Ovechkin decided this year he was going to finally play, and they went right up," said an NHL scout. "He's a super, superstar when he wants to play."