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A Look At the Math: 3/28/14 March 28, 2014

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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This year’s race for the playoffs has been a tale of two conferences. The West is nicely stratified, with the divisional qualifiers already over 90 points, the two wild-card teams in the mid 80’s, and everyone else at 79 or below. St. Louis, San Jose, and Anaheim are already in; Chicago, Colorado, and Los Angeles will more than likely be punching their tickets soon enough; Minnesota and Phoenix control their own fates down the stretch, and–at least mathematically–have no excuses for missing the postseason.

And then there’s the Eastern Conference, where the playoff scenarios are more convoluted than the fare structure on the DC Metro.

First, the easy part: Boston is in, and Pittsburgh would need to collapse like the Sampoong Department Store in order to miss the playoffs.

Montreal and Tampa Bay are both in the Atlantic divisional slots and playing well. Meanwhile, the rest of the Atlantic Division is, in order: going sideways (Detroit); doing its best imitation of M. Night Shyamalan’s career (Toronto); still alive, but with one foot on the golf course (Ottawa); and playing out the string (Florida, Buffalo). As it stands right now, you can break out a #2 pencil–note the word PENCIL–and put the Habs and Bolts on your playoff tree.

And now for the Metropolitan Division and the Wild Card slots, and this is the part where it gets more confusing than the chronology of “Pulp Fiction.”

Pittsburgh is, for all intents and purposes, in. IN THEORY–and this is the ONLY reason they aren’t officially in yet–they could lose their final nine games in regulation and get passed by some combination of the Rangers, Flyers, Jackets, and Capitals, while Detroit rights the ship, takes the final wild card slot, and leaves Penguins fans wondering what the heck just happened. But that’s the ONLY way the Penguins don’t make the playoffs. One more point is all they need, and they have 9 games to earn it. Pencil in the Pens, and get the ink ready: the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be back in Steeltown (unless the Penguins suddenly get possessed by the spirit of the ’95 California Angels, or something.)

Let me quickly rattle off the teams that are, soon will be, or may as well be, out of the picture:

OFFICIALLY OUT
Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers

SOON WILL BE
New York Islanders. Would need to win their final 9 games to get to 84. Eliminated from Metro 1 and 2; would be eliminated from Metro 3 at their next loss of any kind, or Philadelphia’s next point, however gained. That would leave the Islanders with a “doomsday number” of 4 against Columbus, and 5 against Detroit, Washington, and Toronto, for the wild card spots. The Islanders would have to run the table, and have a quarter of the Eastern Conference crash and burn, in order to make the playoffs. Not bloody likely.

MAY AS WELL BE
Ottawa Senators. Could reach 92 points if they win final 10 games. Eliminated from Atlantic 1. Would be eliminated from Atlantic 2 by their next loss of any kind, or by Montreal’s next point, however gained. Doomsday number against Tampa Bay is 4 for the Atlantic 3 spot. Recent performance (2-5-3 in Last 10) does not exactly suggest Cinderella potential.

LONG SHOT
Carolina Hurricanes. Could reach 91 points if they win final 9 games. Eliminated from Metro 1. Doomsday number against New York Rangers for Metro 2 is 6 with tie break; against Philadelphia for Metro 3, 9 with tie break. Carolina is 5-5-0 in its last 10, and it does have enough points available, for now, to keep things interesting. The Hurricanes need lots of wins, and lots of help, to get in. They’re good enough, in my view, to get the wins; the ticklish part is going to be getting the help. Not a team to be lightly written off at this point, but not a team to bet the rent on a playoff appearance, either.

IN THE HUNT
New Jersey Devils. Could reach 94 points if they won their final 9 games. Eliminated from Metro 1. Doomsday number against New York Rangers for Metro 2 is 9 with tie break; against Philadelphia for Metro 3 is 12 with tie break. Will the real New Jersey Devils please stand up? Simply put, I have no CLUE what’s going on in the Garden State. They’re 4 points behind the Wild Card logjam, with 9 games to go: mathematically, not bad at all. But their remaining schedule includes only 2 games against serious playoff contenders (Capitals, Bruins). Who’s going to show up for the other 7 games: cream puffs, or spoilers? Add to that the Devils’ 4-5-1 mark in their last ten games, and you’ve got an extremely combustible mix. Then too, because the Devils have so few games against teams ahead of them, they’re going to need help. Definitely a team to watch over the final few weeks; however, lack of games against teams in front of them is a concern.

THE LOGJAM
Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Washington Capitals, Toronto Maple Leafs. To discuss any one of these teams, you pretty much have to discuss all 4. Top-end scores are: CBJ, 100; DET/WSH, 98; TOR, 96.

Let me mention Toronto first: they’re on a six-game regulation loss skid, they’re 3-7-0 in their last 10, and since the end of the Olympic break, they’ve tumbled from Wild Card 1 and a tie break away from a division slot, all the way to 2 slots below the cut line, with only eight games left to save their season. HOWEVER, 80 points is 80 points, and a couple of regulation wins might just be enough to squeak back into playoff position. Definitely trending the wrong way: of the 4 teams locked at 80 points, the lack of available points, and all the recent losing, doesn’t exactly scream Turnaround Act.  If I were a Leafs fan, and if I were a drinking man, right now I’d be stockpiling the Labatt Blue. It looks like there may be a lot of sorrows that will need drowning in Toronto.

As for Columbus: they have the most points available, and their 5-4-1 mark over their last 10 isn’t horrible. Their schedule over the next week, however, gives pause: PIT, @CAR, OFF, OFF, COL, OFF, @PHI, CHI. Read that: Divisional powerhouse, desperate team, 2 days to recuperate, Playoff team, one day of rest, playoff team, defending Stanley Cup champion. Okay…lots of luck with that. The good news is that if they’re still in position after all of that, their schedule does look a bit easier–on paper–over the final week. But that’s the $64,000 question: can the Jackets stay alive against some certifiably tough cookies over the next week? Worth noting is the game at Philadelphia: the Jackets might possibly be in position to challenge the Flyers for the Metro 3 slot. If the Jackets can survive this coming week, they might be well positioned for not just a playoff spot, but perhaps even some early-round success.

Now, on to Detroit and Washington. (Be honest, Caps fans, how many of you skipped down to this without reading the rest?) Both teams have 80 points on hand, and 98 available. Detroit has been eliminated from Atlantic 1, but the Capitals are mathematically still alive for Metro 1. That happy state of affairs, however, will last until Pittsburgh’s next point, or Washington’s next loss.

That the Capitals have a very tough stretch run is, by now, common knowledge. So let’s take a peek at Detroit’s:

@TOR (Desperate team looking to halt late-season slump. Somebody’s going to go to 82 points here, and if the game goes into OT, the loser will go to 81. Needless to say, the Capitals cannot afford to lose to Boston on Saturday.)
TBL (A division rivalry, and possible later-round playoff preview; the Bolts mean business this year)
BOS (Best team in the East right now)
BUF (The Sabres are out, but could relish the chance to play spoiler to their division rivals)
@MTL (More divisional fireworks, against another playoff contender)
@BUF (As above)
@PIT (Best team in the Metro right now)
CAR (Could potentially be fighting for its playoff life; could just as easily be out of contention, at which point it’s the cream puff/spoiler question)
@STL (Old rivalries die hard, and the Blues have the most points in the NHL as this is being written)

So Detroit certainly doesn’t have an easy schedule down the stretch, either. Yes, they have two games against Buffalo, but those are not guaranteed wins. And if Carolina manages to hang around, they’ll be a tough out by the time they skate the Joe. So the Red Wings really have only 2 games that might be considered “easy”–which divisional games usually aren’t, regardless of standings.

You could very easily make the case that DETROIT has a tougher schedule down the stretch than Washington has.

All told, with the numbers crunched and the schedules analyzed, there is a way for the Capitals to find their way into the postseason. No, it won’t be easy; yes, they’re probably going to need some help before it’s over; and if anyone wanted to say the Caps’ work ethic needed a boost, I’d be hard-pressed to disagree.

However, there’s hope to be had–quite a lot of it, when you look at the math–and this season isn’t quite as over as it seems.

FOR NOW.

The Capitals cannot afford to leave any points on the table at this point. They need to either play cards or leave the table.

The playoffs are now. Still.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
NO TEARS ON MY CALCULATOR TONIGHT, I LOVE IT

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The Playoffs Are Now March 17, 2014

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
1 comment so far

I don’t want to lead off by saying that this season is a lost cause, but…

Here’s where things stand.  Right now, the Capitals would need to run the table to finish with 100 points.  Their current streak is a W2, and with 13 games remaining, that would put them on a theoretical W15 to end the season.

The franchise record for consecutive wins is 14, so you can put me squarely in the doubting Thomas column on THAT possibility.

The current season pace, overall, would see the Caps finish with 88 points.  (87.942, technically, which may as well be 88.)  Now, if we take the Caps’ 5-4-1 Last 10–a 55% points pace–and extrapolate that from the Caps’ current 74 points, we end up with 88.3…and that rounds down to–surprise, surprise–88.

88 points will not get the Capitals into the playoffs.  

Forget about Pittsburgh–they’ve got 92 points already, and an aggregate 8 points (Penguins wins/Capitals losses) officially slams that door shut.

Philadelphia has 15 games remaining, and has 77 points in the bank.  For now, that gives the Capitals a magic number of -24 against Philadelphia, since the Flyers have not clinched the ROW tie break over the Caps.  That’s not impossibly insurmountable to overcome–the redundancy there is intended–but the Caps are going to need a lot of wins, and a lot of help, if they want to challenge for the Metro 2 spot.  And they just might get that help, too:  the Flyers’ next ten games (!!!) are all against teams that are in playoff position as of the conclusion of play Sunday night.  That includes two games against the St. Louis Blues, who currently have the most points in the NHL.  I think Philadelphia can be overtaken, provided the Caps take care of business on their end.

Columbus is currently hanging on to Metro 3 for dear life:  they only have that right now by virtue of games in hand over the Rangers.  The Jackets have 76 points, and 15 games remaining, giving them a top-line potential of 106.  The Capitals are -25 against the Jackets, again because Columbus has not clinched the ROW tie break over Washington.  Again, not impossible; but the Caps are going to need a lot of wins, and a lot of help.  

Of interest: Columbus has 2 each against the Islanders and Hurricanes.  The Islanders have already been eliminated from Metro 1, and the Hurricanes, who are 3-7-0 in their last 10, are likely to follow suit by the end of this week, barring a major turnaround and a totally stinkeroo week from the Tuxedoed Terrors.  And wouldn’t you know it:  the first game Columbus has this week is one of the two Carolina tilts.  Carolina will either be fighting for its playoff life, or relishing the chance to play spoiler:  either way, Tuesday night’s game in Columbus bears watching.

The Islanders currently have a top-line potential of 87 points, so it’s only going to take 4 wins from the Bolts and half a dozen wins from the Blueshirts to disabuse the Fishermen of whatever playoff dreams they might have had left.  They’re spoilers, and they know it; so that might be reflected in the two games they have against the Jackets, as well.  It’s a long shot, and the Jackets’ schedule, while not exactly a pastry shop, isn’t quite as daunting as some of the other Eastern contenders.  Also, on 4/3, the Jackets and Flyers go head to head, so if that game ends in regulation, the Caps will get some help.  So as of now, there is still an outside chance for the Capitals to sneak into the Metro 3.

As for Tampa Bay in the Wildcard 1 slot…

The Caps will host Tampa Bay on the last day of the regular season.  A lot can change between now and then, but it does not look like that game will end up being a win-and-they’re-in for the Caps.  Tampa Bay has a VERY favorable schedule–other than the season finale in Washington, every other game the Bolts will play in April will be at home, where the Lighting is 19-8-5.

And it’s a moot question as things stand right now.  The Caps would need–as of now–80 standings points to overtake Tampa Bay for Wildcard 1, which–again, as of now–would put them in Metro 2.  So, the way things stand right now, there is one less way for the Capitals to get into the playoffs.  The Capitals would need a miracle on the order of feeding the 5,000 to take the Metro 1 slot.  Metro 2 and 3 are not impossible, just difficult.  Wildcard 1 is currently blocked off, as well, because the point total that would secure that slot would actually put the Capitals in a Metro slot.

Which leads us to the Rangers in the Wildcard 2 slot.  The Capitals essentially need 3 points to pass the Rangers for Wildcard 2:  with only 13 games remaining, and the Capitals trailing by 8 in the ROW column, the Rangers are all but assured of the tie break should the Capitals only eke out 2 more points than the Rangers down the stretch.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  8 of the Rangers’ final 13 games are on the road.  This week is going to be very interesting for the Rangers:  after a Tuesday night stop in Ottawa–where the Rangers won 4-1 earlier this season–the Rangers head out to Columbus on Friday.  There are the Jackets again, and this is going to be an important game for both clubs.  But then, get this, no rest for the weary, as the Rangers will be in New Jersey the very next night–and those two teams despise each other with a passion.  The Rangers then head back to MSG next Monday for a duel with the Desert Dogs, who are currently right smack on the bubble out west.  Then it’s a Rivalry Wednesday game against the Flyers, and we know how those games can go.  But THEN–and here’s where the Caps are going to get what might be their last break from their opponents’ schedules–the Rangers go west themselves:  Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Colorado.  Calgary and Edmonton are most likely going to be in full-on spoiler mode at that point, Vancouver is fighting for its postseason life, and Colorado is currently in the Central 2 slot.  The Rangers are going to need every single point they can scare up on that road trip.  Here’s why:  their final 3 home games are against Carolina, Ottawa, and Buffalo, all 3 of which will likely be playing out the string at that point.  If the Rangers come home from their Western swing without a playoff spot locked down, any of those teams–perhaps all 3–would be more than happy to see to it that they finish the season that way.  The Rangers wrap the seaon in Montreal, which currently holds the Atlantic 2 slot.

Now, why does all that matter to the Capitals?

As things stand right now, the Caps’ most probable route to the playoffs is the Wildcard 2 slot.  Both the Capitals and Rangers have 13 games remaining; both of those schedules are 5 at home and 8 away.  And while it’s easy enough to look at the Rangers’ schedule and say they’ve got an easier schedule and the lead going in, I’m not so sure it’s as cut and dried as all that.  There are enough games on the Rangers’ schedule which could give the Caps some as-of-now unexpected help.

All that having been said, it’s all for naught if the Caps go one-step-forward-two-steps-back in the final 4 weeks of the regular season.  The Capitals, simply put, have got to win, a lot, right now.  

The schedule is not going to be any help:  the only game the Caps have left against a team ahead of them in the standings is the season finale against Tampa Bay.  So, essentially, they have, as this is being written, almost no control of their playoff fate at this point.  There’s just no way to sugar-coat it:  the Caps are already in the unenviable position where, theoretically, they could run the table and still miss the playoffs.

However, that nightmare scenario may actually be a longer shot than the Caps somehow finding a way in.  If they win enough games, and hang around long enough, they might just get the break they need from the out of town scoreboard.

But they have got, got, GOT to win, consistently, convincingly, consecutively, and RIGHT THE HECK NOW.

Don’t book your April 14 tee times just yet, Caps fans:  for now, there is hope.  But there is a heavy emphasis on FOR NOW.  

It may be too much to expect these Caps to play 4 weeks of perfect hockey.  Bad luck happens; honest mistakes happen; hot goalies happen.  That’s one thing.

But this season, the Caps have sometimes found some very creative ways to shoot themselves in the proverbial foot.  That’s quite another thing, and they cannot afford to do that anymore.

Because, for all intents and purposes, the playoffs are NOW for the Washington Capitals.  Any mistake could turn out to be the nail in the coffin once we look back at the end of the regular season.  There is a way for the Caps to make the playoffs.  However, there are just as many, if not more, ways for them to get knocked out.

So, it’s down to this.  5 home games left, 4 weeks to play, 3 teams we can pass, 2 long road swings, and a partridge in a pear tree.  Buckle up, Caps Nation.  It’s go time.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
JUST WIN, BABY