The Washington Capitals' 6-4 win over the division rival Atlanta Thrashers Sunday, fueled by John Erskine's mustache, gave the Caps a nine-point lead in the division and three-point leads over Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference and Los Angeles for the President's Trophy.

Washington Capitals celebrate one of their 13 wins. (C.Nichols)
Washington owns a 13-4-1 record after 18 games.  No team in hockey has more wins.  Only Detroit, St. Louis and L.A. have fewer regulation losses.  The Caps are 9-1-0 at home and are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games.

The Caps far and away lead the lead in goals scored with 66 (and goals per game at 3.61).  The next closest is Philly at 58.  Yet, only ten teams in the league have allowed fewer goals.  Their power play, penalty kill and faceoff percentages all rank in the top third in the NHL.

So why is everyone is so concerned about this team?

Are the expectations for the Washington Capitals so high this season that they simply can't be the best team in the league? 

Apparently so.  The frustration felt after last season's early departure from the playoffs has seated so deeply that the Caps must dominate every game, every period, every shift, or in the minds of some they will be destined to come up as disappointing and empty as they did at the end of last season.

This team is young, talented and motivated.  They are coached by smart, dedicated, and passionate coaches.  They are managed by a shrewd businessman that is conservative by nature but willing to address needs -- within a calculated game plan.  And they are owned by one of the most transparent, active and fan-oriented owners in all of sports.

What's not to like?

Are there flaws in the roster?  Probably.  Are there occasional lapses in attention?  Perhaps.

But it looks more and more every day that one of this season's biggest mysteries, the starting goalie position, isn't really one of the problems.  Yes, Michal Neuvirth may look a little tired lately, but other than that he's been spectacular.  While not as gifted athletically as Semyon Varlamov, he is technically and positionally superior to the oft-injured Russian keeper.

Nagging injuries to Tom Poti and Boyd Gordon have kept the Capitals from icing their best squad for most of the season, yet they succeed.  Every team has injury problems, but the Caps farm system is so deep they've been able to weather -- and even flourish on occasion -- even when veterans miss ice time.

And the Caps have gotten out to the best start in hockey this season standings-wise while their two best players, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, are still really trying to get into a groove.  Yes, they both are in the Top 8 in the league in scoring (along with Alexander Semin), a nod to their unbelievable skill level.  But watching them play, I think everyone gets a sense that they just aren't quite clicking at full speed yet.

Woe to the rest of the league when that happens.

Not the least in factors, but the Caps have done all that they have so far this season while breaking rookies in at goalie, second-line center and the second defensive pairing.

Should this organization he held to loftier standards?  Of course.  It's especially glaring when the Caps don't play their best, as was the case in the the second periods at Buffalo and again Sunday against Atlanta.  But every game is the opponent's Super Bowl when they play the Caps, and there are going to be occasions where the Caps get outplayed.  The other team is still trying too.

So when you read accounts of the Caps failing to dominate, being accused of taking games, periods, or shifts off, and of players struggling, keep in mind that the level of play they are achieving so far is good enough to qualify them as the best team in the NHL at the moment, and that the weight of high expectations seems to be affecting the media, bloggers and fans more than it is the team.

Remember, it took Wayne Gretzky and Glen Sather until the end of thier sixth season in the league to win a Stanley Cup.  Their Edmonton Oilers teams then won four of the next five.