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JUST. ONE. GAME. February 21, 2012

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

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.




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