By Chris Lingebach

The Capitals are back atop the Metropolitan Division 40 games into the 2017-18 season, a place familiar enough to Capitals teams of old, but one that’s eluded this current iteration of the club for most of the season.

After parting with Justin Williams, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson last offseason, virtually no one had high expectations for the Caps entering this season, parting with years of pre-season expectations in the past.

Despite these lowered expectations, Jay Beagle never bought into the idea that the Caps were rebuilding, he told The Sports Junkies during his weekly 106.7 The Fan appearance — ‘The Morning Skate with Jay Beagle,’ sponsored by Sport Automotive. But he’s welcomed the change of pace.

“Obviously our division’s tough,” said Beagle. “If you look at it, the Metro’s tight. I remember hearing that at the beginning of the year, kind of hearing people talking like that. It’s nice to be able to kind of fly under the radar, I guess, because the last couple years, there’s been a lot of talk about us, and so, a lot of pressure on [us].

“It was nice to kind of just be able to go out and figure it out as a team, because we knew we were gonna have some new guys. I think, for a lot of us coming back that have been here for a while, we knew that obviously the goal was to be where we’re at right now, first in the division, and to keep building. It’s been a fun season. It’s been fun having new guys and building a new identity with a new group of guys.”

“Yeah. We’re hot right now,” he said. “We had a great December and we just gotta keep this going into January now.”

“So you never bought into the whole rebuild thing,” said Jason Bishop.

“No. No. I didn’t buy into that,” Beagle replied. “No. No.”

“Because you know you’ve got too many good players,” Bishop added.

“That’s exactly what I was gonna say,” Beagle said. “You know when you have the players coming back, and you see the signings and stuff that we had. I mean, we have a great core here and a lot of great players, so every year we should be contenders to win the Presidents’ Trophy and then go in the playoffs and be contenders to win the Stanley Cup. That’s the way we look at it and that’s our mindset.”

Asked if the lack of expectations coming into this season has served as an advantage, Beagle agreed it does.

“When you’re kind of that team that everyone’s watching and the expectations are so high, I think as a player… it is good, too. It’s good to have that,” he said. “But no one puts more expectations and more pressure on ourselves than us. Like, no one else can put more pressure on yourself to perform than yourself. You want to win more than anyone. That’s what’s gotten you here and that’s what drives you.

“And so, when you have that extra kind of pressure and that extra, just, people always scrutinizing and looking at everything as a team and individually, I think it adds pressure that’s necessarily not very good. It’s nice, like I said, this year to come in at the beginning of the year just to be able to figure it out as a team and not have just that expectation of coming out of the gates and being in first place and leading the league right away in points.”

“I think this year, it’s been a little bit different in that sense, and it’s been good,” he added. “It’s allowed guys that are new to the team to figure out their role and allowed our team just to figure out our identity. It’s been nice for a change.”

Follow @ChrisLingebach and @1067TheFan on Twitter

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