Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Importance of Being "Earnest"

Over the past three evenings and yesterday the Washington Capitals have played in only one hockey game - Friday night - that they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning 3 - 2 in regulation. However during that time span they managed to a) clinch their third division title in a row, and b) put some additional breathing room between themselves and a couple of folks who are chasing them for playoff positioning and the NHL regular season championship, namely Pittsburgh and Buffalo.

During the past three evenings while the Caps went 0-1-0, Pittsburgh and Buffalo both played one of the games they had in hand on the Capitals. Pittsburgh went 0-1-1 in the span and no, like the Caps has played 68 games this season, leaving them only 14 remaining games to attempt to make up the 14 points (7 games) they trail the Caps. Over the same time span, Buffalo went 1-1-1, they have now played 67 games leaving them 15 games to attempt to make up the 17 points they trail the Caps and 3 points they trail the Penguins. Both the Sabres and the Penguins are also still fighting with division rivals Ottawa/Montreal and New Jersey/Philadelphia respectively for their division crowns as well. At this juncture, in the Northeast Division, Buffalo has 82 points/67 games played, Ottawa has 79 points/69 GP, and Montreal has 76 points/70 GP. In the Atlantic Division Pittsburgh currently has 85 points/68 GP, New Jersey has 83 points/67 GP and Philadelphia has 76 points/67 GP. On Thursday evening, Atlanta's loss to Columbus meant the Caps clinched their division as at that time they had at least a 15 game lead on every one of their other division rivals with just 15 games remaining.

So where am I going with all this background? Remember back in October when, after the Caps 3 - 2 shootout win over the Nashville Predators on the 17th, or after the 3-2 overtime win against the Islanders in Uniondale, we talked about "ugly wins" but how in April we'd only be talking about and thinking about the two points? Well, now is that time and indeed all we're talking about is the two points, they earned on those days and how now with a season total of 99 points, the Capitals sit atop the NHL standings. The Caps are in control of their own destiny today, and if they play to their potential through the rest of the season, they should continue to be so. How did they get here - let's look back at a month by month to get an idea.

  • October: The Caps opened the season 8-2-3 and captured 19 points while playing 0.731 hockey.

  • November: The Caps went 8-3-3 capturing another 19 points and played 0.679 hockey and finished the month with 38 points for the the first two months of the season.

  • December: The Caps went 8-5-0, capturing another 16 points, playing 0.615 hockey and finishing the month with a total of 54 points.

  • January: After opening the new year with a 2-1 loss to the Kings in LA on New Year's day, the third loss in a row, the Caps went 13-2-0 including finishing the month with the first ten of what would end up being a 14 game winning streak. The fantastic January record, 0.867 hockey, gave the Caps 80 points and propelled them into a clear battle for the league's regular season point title. It also clearly gives this year's Caps team a chance to finish the season with the best record of any team in franchise history and enter the playoffs with a top seed and home ice advantage throughout.

  • February: After continuing the in process winning streak to 14 games the Caps went into the Olympic break on a three game loosing streak and a record of 4-1-2 and a total of 90 points. Even with a three game loosing streak the Caps were 0.714 for the month.

  • March: Returning from the Olympic break, the Caps have started the month 4-1-1, made some interesting, relatively low cost trade deadline pickups and were the first team in the league to clinch their division and a playoff spot. The Caps now have 99 points and are on the verge of their second 100+ point season.

When you look at those month by month results, what you see is the Capitals have played consistently strong and with clear purpose and drive to win, throughout the season. One might say, the Capitals have played with earnest all season long, working hard to make sure they get back to the playoffs and go further then they did last year. The Capitals have clearly shown they understand it is much better to be finishing the season in a manner that is preparing for the post season rather then scurrying to make sure they make the playoffs. Now whether or not that means this Capitals team achieves what no other Capitals Team has during the franchises 35 year history remains to be seen. But it's sure been fun to watch them try, and it likely it will continue to be so. Of course, all that continues to require focus on the immediate task at hand by the Capitals and that means one game at a time. Next up, Chicago, today on the NBC Game of the Week.


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