The Playoffs Are Now March 17, 2014Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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.
JUST WIN, BABY