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Some Deadline Math To Chew On February 26, 2012

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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The trade deadline is Monday at 3, which is a little more than 24 hours from when I’m beginning to type this.  The question facing Caps fans–and Caps management–is whether or not there’s any chance of making the playoffs.  I decided to break out my calculator and have a look at the math.

These calculations are through all games Saturday night:  Sunday’s games will change these numbers a bit, but not enough to change my analysis all that much.

Let me give a quick refresher on how to figure out clinches and eliminations, for those who don’t know how I’m getting these numbers.  A team clinches over another team when it has scored more points than the other team can possibly attain.  Conversely, a team is eliminated by another team when there are not enough points remaining to catch the team ahead of it.  Games Remaining are valued at 2 points apiece.  So if a team has 67 points with 20 games remaining, it has another 40 points it can still earn, for a Max Possible Points of 107 (which is where the Caps stand now, by the way).

The difference between one team’s current points, and the other team’s max possible points, is the “magic number” between those two teams:  i.e., what it would take to clinch over, or eliminate, the other team.  There are actually two ways to compare teams:  Team A Max Points vs Team B Points, or Team A Points vs Team B Max Points.  So there are TWO magic numbers between each team:  one represents a clinch, the other, an elimination.

So, here are the current scenarios for the Capitals against all the other teams in the Eastern Conference.  Since the Caps still have 40 points available, they could go anywhere from up 40 on their current points, to down 40 on their max possible points.  Anything outside 40 points, whether a clinch or an elimination, is outside the Caps’ direct control.

Before you panic, that actually works both ways.  It is true that if the Caps want to clinch over another team that’s more than 40 points up, they’re going to need to run the table and still need help.  However, if the Caps have an elimination number that is above 40–and they’ve got quite a few of those–then they would have to essentially tank the table and still “get help.”

I’m also going to look at the spreads, i.e., the difference between the clinch number and the elimination number.  I’m going to use Games Remaining as a ballpark number for what’s attainable, and for the Caps, that’s currently a spread of 20.

Here are the numbers:

Pts: 67
Games Remaining: 20
Max Pts: 107

Pts: 84
Games Remaining: 22
Max Pts: 128
Clinch with: 61*
Eliminated by: 23
Spread: -38

Pts: 77
Games Remaining:  22
Max Points: 121
Clinch with: 54*
Eliminated by: 30
Spread: -24

Pts: 68
Games Remaining: 22
Max Points: 112
Clinch with: 45*
Eliminated by: 39
Spread: -6

Pts: 75
Games Remaining: 21
Max Pts: 117
Clinch with: 50*
Eliminated by: 32
Spread: -18

Pts: 75
Games Remaining: 21
Max Pts: 117
Clinch with: 50*
Eliminated by: 32
Spread: -18

Pts: 74
Games Remaining: 22
Max Pts: 118
Clinch with: 51*
Eliminated by: 33
Spread: -18

Pts: 72
Games Remaining: 19
Max Pts: 110
Clinch with: 43*
Eliminated by: 35
Spread: -8

Pts: 68
Games Remaining: 18
Max Pts: 104
Clinch with: 37
Eliminated by: 39
Spread: -2

Pts: 65
Games Remaining: 20
Max Points: 105
Clinch with: 38
Eliminated by: 42*
Spread: +4

Pts: 62
Games Remaining: 20
Max Pts: 102
Clinch with: 35
Eliminated by: 45*
Spread: +10

Pts: 60
Games Remaining: 21
Max Pts: 102
Clinch with: 35
Eliminated by: 47*
Spread: +12

Pts: 60
Games Remaining: 21
Max Pts: 102
Clinch with: 35
Eliminated by: 47*
Spread: +12

Pts: 59
Games Remaining: 20
Max Pts: 99
Clinch with: 32
Eliminated by: 48*
Spread: +16

Pts: 58
Games Remaining: 20
Max Pts: 98
Clinch with: 31
Eliminated by: 49*
Spread: +18

Okay.  So the Caps can forget about catching the Rangers and Bruins at this point.  Mathematically, it’s possible; as a practical matter, not so much, barring a miraculous stretch run by the Caps and collapses by the Rangers and B’s that would rival the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

I’ll get to the 3 spot in a second.  The short take on the 4-7 spots is that they aren’t completely impossible as of today, but a couple of losses (or wins by the teams in those spots) and they might be.

But before you start moping, take a look at the lower end of the chart.  As of right now, every team behind the Caps, from Toronto on down, needs more than 40 points to eliminate the Caps.  In other words, if the Caps take care of their own wins, they should have no trouble hanging on to the 9 spot at worst.  That’s not great, especially given the regular season success we were spoiled by in recent seasons.  But the Caps do in fact have a shot at the playoffs right now, and a good one.

Now, you’ll note that the Panthers’ clinch number is above 40.  I won’t mince words:  that is a major concern.  The Caps are going to have to do a lot of winning, now, and hope Florida stumbles a bit, in order to have a shot at the Southeast Division crown.  Note, however, that the spread in magic numbers against the Panthers is in single digits.  That is definitely doable, but the Caps need to start rattling off a good W number, now, to do so.  It is too late in the season to be consistently inconsistent.

As for the Jets, that’s a race that could go either way.  Not a bad spot to be in, to be sure, but the Capitals do need to take advantage of that spot, ESPECIALLY given the two weeks’ worth of home cooking they’re about to be served.

While the first three-quarters of the regular season have been somewhat unspectacular, the Capitals are still in position to make the playoffs, and potentially skate away with the division championship.  I would contend that it’s too early to give up on the season now, and frankly, I expect we’ll be seeing some playoff hockey in the District this spring.

How much playoff hockey?  Well, you know what I said before the season started.  And you know how much I’d love to be right about it.

The Caps can make the playoffs from where they stand, and I would submit that if they make it in from here, they may prove to be a force to be reckoned with.  I may be in the minority here, but I would be extremely disappointed if the Caps opted to cash in their chips on Deadline Day.  They can make the playoffs from here; and if they did, that same never-say-die attitude which would get them there, would also serve them well once they DID get there.

Now is not the time to surrender.  This season just might work out, after all.



JUST. ONE. GAME. February 21, 2012

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I normally don’t fire off post-game write-ups when I’ve got to be at the office the next day, but tonight, I’m going to have to make an exception.

Yes, the Capitals did a very convincing job stinking up the RBC Center tonight.  Let’s call a spade a spade here: getting taken to the woodshed to the tune of a 5-0 whitewash can accurately be described as 32 flavors of suck.  And let’s point something else out: the Caps are now in 10th place, having been passed by the Winnipeg Jets.

For those of you who’ve got to have numbers, here you go. On January 15th, after the Capitals squeaked by the Carolina Hurricanes, things looked much better than they do now. The Caps led the division, although that was admittedly only by virtue of a second tie break over the Panthers.  The Caps were 7-3-0 in their last ten at that point, and looked to be heading in the right direction.

Since then, the Caps have gone 5-8-3, which works out to a .40625 points percentage.  And some of those losses have been a very long way from pretty.

And judging by some of the caterwauling on Twitter–which is an understandable reaction given the Caps’ performance tonight–the glass isn’t just half-empty, it’s half-empty and evaporating fast.  Dame Fortune should come knocking for the Capitals any day now, but a lot of Caps fans could be forgiven for thinking she’ll have to knock extra loud, her daughter Miss Fortune having completely wrecked the doorbell.

Now, with all that having been said…

This season is a long way from over.  VERY long.  The Panthers lead by all of 2 points and a game in hand–which isn’t all that much with 23 games to go.  The Cats are 5-5-0 in their last 10, and are currently on a 3-game losing skid.  Their next game is Thursday night, against a Minnesota team that’s as achingly close to the playoffs out West as the Caps are in the East.  The Wild is exactly 4 points out of the 8 spot in the Western Conference, so they’re going to be skating into the Litter Box with something to prove.  Minnesota’s last game, while I’m at it, was a 2-0 win over the defending Cup champions, on national television…think they’ll be feeling their oats on the way in?  Meanwhile, the Panthers were on the wrong end of a 2-0 shutout on Sunday, against an Anaheim Ducks team that was playing .500 hockey when they skated onto the ice.  And while Minnesota’s 2-6-2 L10 stat is not flattering in the least, you have to believe they’re thinking buckle down and push hard.

I could be way off base here:  Wild GM Chuck Fletcher may have other ideas, and may be thinking “sell” over the next few days.  We’ll see.  But barring any major roster shake-ups between now and Thursday, I have a hunch that the Wild may give Florida a good skate for its money.  From there, the Panthers head up to Raleigh–the same Raleigh that just gave the Capitals fits tonight.  The Panthers then come home to face a Montreal squad that might have all of Montreal praying for divine assistance.  From there, the Cats take a quick turn north of the border to face the Maple Leafs (who are hanging on to the 8 spot for dear life) and the Jets (6-4-0 in their last 10, on a 3-game win streak.)  The Panthers then come home for back-to-back home games against a no-nonsense Nashville squad on Saturday, and a probable playoff contender in Ottawa.  They then get a few days off, before hitting both ends of the Pennsylvania Turnpike on consecutive nights on March 8th (Flyers) and 9th (Penguins).

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t exactly look like the easiest schedule the Panthers could have right about now.

The way ahead for the Capitals, meanwhile, looks a bit easier.  The Caps head for Ottawa on Wednesday night, and we’ll see what they’re made of coming off of a loss like this.  Friday night, it’s back to the cozy confines of Verizon Center, against Montreal–a game that ought to have the locals in full-throated battle roar, given both the two teams’ recent playoff history, and the presence on the Habs’ roster of a certain elbow-thrower.  The Caps then head up to Toronto for a Hockey Night in Canada matchup with the Leafs–a game that could go either way, but one you have to think the Caps are going to throw the kitchen sink at.  After that, the Caps spend TWO.  FULL.  WEEKS.  At home.  On the menu: the Islanders, Devils, Flyers, Hurricanes, and Lightning, in that order.  That’s what both teams are looking at through March 9.

Based strictly on the travel schedule, you have to think the Capitals have a bit of an edge over the Panthers for the next few weeks, up to March 9.  The Panthers have 3 separate back-to-back nights; the Capitals, just one.  And a quick eyeball of the standings gives me the impression that the aggregate opponent points percentage facing the Panthers could be just a smidge higher than the opponent points percentage facing the Caps.  The Panthers are going to be traveling more, and facing tougher opponents, than the Caps will be over the next two and a half weeks.

Here’s what that translates to, in practical terms.

First and foremost: the Caps need to do well on their two games north of the border this week.  They’ve GOT to figure out how to win when they’re wearing white.

But there are a good half-dozen games at home coming up for the Caps, and this, Washington, is where you and I come in.

Start resting your voices now, and get ready, Caps Nation.  Because as of Friday, we’ve got to be the seventh man half a dozen nights out of the following two weeks.  Stay healthy; limber up if that’s your cheering style; break out your industrial-size cowbells; and if you want to go completely over the top, head over to Raveworx and get some light-ups.  If our men ever needed us this year, it’s going to be over the next two weeks.

So, to put it all together:  Yes, tonight’s stinker against the Hurricanes hurt.  It hurt badly.  But the Capitals are still in position to make the playoffs, and winning the Southeast Division title again is not out of the question.  In fact, based on the next two weeks’ schedules, I think the Capitals may end up ahead of the Panthers by a game or two, possibly more, before it’s all said and done.  DON’T.  GIVE.  UP.  NOW. 

Yes, I can see that five-game road trip later in the middle of March, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned.  HOWEVER.  If our men do as well at home as they’ve done over the past few seasons, they may have a bit of a cushion to work with–and if they can come out ahead of that road trip, then 5 of their final 8 games are at home.

All of that requires all of us at Verizon Center to be at our dead level best for the balance of the season.  As far as I’m concerned, we’re not hoping for the playoffs, and we’re not getting ready for the playoffs:  we’re IN the playoffs, and we need to Rock the Red as such.

If we’re to see the celebration in the third week of June which my cards foretold last fall, then we need to start doing our part.  No giving up on the season now:  buckle down, Believe, and know that your intentions about the Caps do indeed matter.  This is where we come in.

So get ready, Caps Nation.  We have a hockey team that’s going to need us, a lot, and soon.  Be prepared.


They’re Serious, Aren’t They? February 10, 2012

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It seems that the Archdiocese of Montreal takes the idea of God at the rink seriously.

According to McPaper–which I typically regard as obscenely expensive fish wrap, but don’t get me started on that–the Archdiocese of Montreal put a one-shot ad in two French-language papers in Montreal, essentially asking the locals to pray for the Habs.

It can’t hurt, although–and I know this is a bit flippant–God is well within His rights to say no.  (He’s like that.) 

That said, while asking for Divine assistance is every Habs fan’s right, and while mass prayer isn’t a bad idea, and while those prayers will certainly be heard, that in and of itself is no guarantee of results.  But if the Canadiens do make it into the postseason from where they are right now, there may be a few extra knees on the kneelers in April.  And that’s not a bad thing:  if a hockey miracle gets otherwise not-so-religious Montrealers taking an interest in the sacred, that’s all to the good.

I’ll grant that this is good publicity, and that the objective with this ad may have been more about bringing people to (or back to) the Church, than it may have been to pray for the Habs per se.  That said, it’s definitely a creative move; and if it helps get the Canadiens into the playoffs, that might get people asking questions.  Questions like, Does God exist?  Does God love me?  Does a God that big really care about the small things in my life?  (In order:  Absolutely; More than you’ll ever know; and You might be surprised just how much.) 

If a Canadiens playoff appearance starts a mini-revival in Montreal, that would be a wonderful thing to see.

But–and here’s the part where I put down my rave lights and pick up my calculator–the Canadiens are going to need a lot of help–dare I say, a minor miracle?–to make it in.  Here’s how the numbers crunch.

MTL–Points, 53; Games Played, 55; Games Remaining, 27; Points Available, 54; Max Possible Points, 107.

The best the Habs can do right now is 107 points, assuming they run the table.  Right now, the team in 8th place is Toronto, with 62 points.  That leaves the Habs only 45 points to work with down the stretch, going into Friday’s games.  If the teams ahead of them win, that 45 is going to come down regardless, even if the Canadiens win their own games.  And that’s also assuming that teams currently out of the top 8 keep underperforming, which–Caps, I’m looking really hard at you–ain’t gonna happen.

If the Habs play .500 hockey the rest of the way, they’re going to finish with 80 points, and that’s not going to do it, not by a long shot.  The Habs essentially have to play .700 hockey for the rest of the season just to get to 91 points and have any halfway realistic hope of a postseason bid.

I’m not going to say that they haven’t got a prayer, but if all of Montreal takes the Church seriously and asks for Divine help for the Canadiens, you never know.  Miracles do happen, even in unlikely places like athletics.

Are the Canadiens’ struggles part of God’s plan to bring people back to Him in Montreal?  No one on Earth will ever be able to say for sure; I certainly don’t dare answer that question.  But it is an intriguing question, isn’t it?


On the Caps’ Recent Struggles February 6, 2012

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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.


A Personal Update February 1, 2012

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On Monday, I was given 60 days’ notice by my employer.  I’m being laid off.  If you know of any doors I can knock on in the DC area, please let me know.  Thanks.–CS