When the Washington Capitals fired Bruce Boudreau at the end of November, they trailed the Florida Panthers by three points in the division standings and were on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
Fast-forward two months. The team, now led by franchise legend Dale Hunter, is sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference as leaders of the Southeast Division while coming off a 5-3 win against the reigning Cup champs, the Boston Bruins. And it's performing without the services of superstars Alex Ovechkin (suspension), Nicklas Backstrom (concussion) and Mike Green (injured groin).
But not all that glitters is gold. If the Capitals don't drastically improve their play, they could be in for another disappointing season. Under Hunter, the Caps' offense has struggled to muster shots on goal and has gone long stretches between scoring chances, especially when trailing. Based on the performances of every postlockout team, if those trends continue, Washington will face a disastrous end to its 2011-12 campaign. Forget winning the Cup; at this point, a playoff berth is a serious question mark.