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On the Caps’ Recent Struggles February 6, 2012

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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I try to see the silver lining in things, but right now, I’m seeing an uncomfortable amount of cloud when it comes to the Capitals.

I wouldn’t mind watching a trap defense so much, if it translated into W’s at the end of the night.  But when the games get boring, the fans get quiet, when I need a second Coke Zero (at $5.75 a cup, thank you very much) to keep from yawning my head off, AND the results are less than spectacular…well…

Defensive hockey is what wins championships.  True enough.  But when it’s trap versus trap, the game ends up as passing and dumping and chasing and clearing and passing and dumping and chasing and clearing and passing and dumping and chasing and WOULD SOMEBODY PLEASE TAKE A SHOT ALREADY!!!

Again, that wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the results on the ice were better than what we’ve seen so far.  Granted, the Caps are more likely than not to make the playoffs (note well the incertitude.)  And if Florida stumbles, a fifth consecutive division banner isn’t out of the question.  But with just over five dozen days remaining in the regular season, it is anything but reassuring to see the Caps below the playoff line, even if only just.

I will happily eat my words herein if my preseason prediction of a celebration in the third week of June comes to pass.  But being in what’s now an anything-could-happen fight for the postseason is unfamiliar–and uneasy–territory, given the team’s performance in recent regular seasons.

If there is a silver lining in any of this, it’s that a team that’s used to fighting for survival should be that much more formidable when it really DOES become a fight for survival when it’s best of seven and no tomorrow.

To quote a line from “The Third Man”–“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”  

In Switzerland’s defense, it did also produce delicious chocolate, Velcro, the Swiss Army knife, and perhaps the most garishly dressed security guards on the planet; but the point is well taken.  A white-knuckle, rough-and-tumble, anything-could-happen, fight-to-survive finish may be just what the Caps need to prepare themselves mentally and physically for the white-knuckle, rough-and-tumble, anything-could-happen, fight-to-survive second season.

Now, as to the Caps’ playoff math:  going into the game against Florida on Tuesday evening, the Capitals’ theoretical maximum point total is 118.  Here’s how that works out against the rest of the East.  Positive numbers represent clinches; negative numbers represent eliminations.

First, let’s look at the bad news, the Elimination numbers.  In mathematical order, it looks like this:

NYR, -47; BOS, -50; PHI, -52; PIT, -54; NJD, -55; OTT, -57; TOR, -58; FLA, -59; WPG, -64; TBL, -67; NYI/BUF, -68; MTL/CAR, -69.

And now for the fun stuff, the Clinch numbers.

CAR, +47; MTL, +49; BUF/WPG, +52; NYI 54; TBL, +55; OTT +57; TOR +62; FLA, +63; PIT, +64; NJD, +65; PHI +68; BOS, +72; NYR, +77.

And all of that means what?

Okay, right now the Caps have 30 games remaining.  At 2 points a game, that means they have 60 points available, straight up.  But they need 63 to clinch over the Panthers–not enough points, right?

Well, not quite.  Don’t forget, the Caps have three more games against the Panthers head to head, the first of which is Tuesday night.  If the Caps win those games, they not only hang on to their own top-end number, but they take Florida’s down, as well.  Those are indeed four point games; if the Caps win all three of those in regulation, they can get that number down to 51, just on those three games, and they’ll buy themselves a tiny sliver of wiggle room, as well.  Needless to say, if the Caps want to win the Southeast, they need to help themselves by beating Florida in all three contests.  If they can do that, the Southeast crown will be attainable.  If they don’t do that, however, they’re going to have to hope the Panthers make mistakes–and the Caps’ fate will be out of their hands.  They’ll be reduced to Just Win, Baby, and hoping for slumps ahead of them–which is less than ideal, to put it mildly.

Now, if you look at the clinch numbers, you’ll see that every team up to and including Ottawa has a Clinch number under 60.  The Caps have two more games against Toronto, so they can get past the Leafs if they win those games.  But all the other teams, from Pittsburgh on up, are mathematically beyond where the Capitals can get to on their own.  So, as of right now, the Caps are looking at 6th place, at best, if they don’t win the division.

Now, I need to stress that the Caps haven’t been mathematically eliminated from anything just yet.  But they also haven’t clinched anything just yet (but more on that in a second).  But, in order to get above 6th place, either they have to beat Florida and/or Toronto head to head, or they’re going to need help on the out of town scoreboard.

Now, let’s look at the Elimination numbers (the “minus” numbers).  Every team from Winnipeg on down has Elimination numbers that are above 60.  Effectively, those teams would need the Caps to play some horrible hockey, and do a lot of winning of their own, to have any chance of passing them.  So while it’s too soon to write anything in ink, the Capitals can probably end up in 9th, and right at the cut line, without any help.  As for Florida on the Elimination side:  if the Caps lose all three games against the Panthers in regulation, they will be down to a -47 for the division title, best case, and will somehow need to hang on with only 27 other games left to do so.  With good health, solid goaltending, and a few lucky bounces here and there, that wouldn’t be impossible.  But it would be unlikely, and at that point, the Caps would be fighting for their postseason lives.

So what it boils down to is this.  The Capitals aren’t in terrible shape right now, but there is no room left for a losing streak anymore.  None.  The Caps don’t necessarily need to run the table; but the consistent inconsistency of win one, lose one, win one, lose one, cannot continue.  The Caps need to put a good winning streak together, now, and hang on for dear life to whatever points they can spare.  They will get some periodic help on the out of town scoreboard over the next two months, but that in and of itself will not be enough to get them into the playoffs.

They have to win.  A lot.  And right now.  While they are more likely than not to make the playoffs as of now, a lot can change in two months, and any sustained skid could prove disastrous.

This is where we’re going to find out what the Capitals are really made of.  If they can win the division from where they stand now, then they should have what it takes to make a deep playoff run.  If they end up with a low seed, well, a low seed was no problem for Edmonton in 2006, or (to a lesser extent) Montreal in 2010.  If they’re in it, they have a shot.

However, they have to be in it to get that shot.  And if their struggles continue, the coming summer could turn out to be unacceptably long.

Those of you attending Verizon Center for the Panthers game Tuesday night, bring your A games, bring your shouting voices, bring the biggest cowbells you have access to, and bring all the fury that you can unleash.  We can’t be as quiet against Florida as we were against Boston on Sunday afternoon.  If the roof is still on Verizon Center at the end of the night, then we left something on the table.

Our players need us; let’s do our part, so they can do theirs.

See you all at the rink.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
NUMBER CRUNCHING AND PANTHER HUNTING

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