Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Rest of the Season In The Eastern Conference

The Capitals pace this season is blistering and they've picked up where they left off once the Olympics Break was over going 3-0 since play has resumed. The Caps now have a few interesting magic numbers. They still have 17 games left to play this season but because they lead the Southeast Division by 30 points and 14 games their magic number to clinch the Southeast Division is just 3 - any combination of 3 wins by the Capitals or 3 losses by the the Atlanta Thrashers and the Caps likely clinch the Division since their magic number to ensure the Tampa Bay Lightening cannot win the division is 2, and the Florida Panthers is 1.

As far as the Eastern Conference goes right now the Capitals are basically fighting it out with four other teams for the Conference crown: Pittsburgh who has 82 points, New Jersey who has 79 points and two games in hand, Buffalo who has 77 points and two games in hand, and Ottawa who has 77 points and whom the Capitals have one game in hand on. So right now the Caps lead the Conference by at least 7 games on their next closest rival with 17 games to play. That puts their magic number on New Jersey at 11, Pittsburgh and Buffalo each at 10, and on Ottawa at 7.

These numbers are interesting and even more exciting when you look over the Caps remaining schedule. Eight of the remaining games are against other members of the Southeast Division. So far this season the Caps are 14-2-0 against teams in their own division. Further the Caps play the Carolina Hurricanes 3 more times this month - once at home and twice in Raleigh at RBC Center, and at this point following their trade deadline moves with just 59 points, the 28th place Hurricanes are playing solely for pride with a depleted roster, so it's probably not hard to see the Capitals capturing 4 or more of those available points, unless somehow Cam Ward manages to steal more than one game from the Caps. The Caps play the Tampa Bay Lightening and the Atlanta Thrashers each two times, Tampa once at home and once in Tampa this month and Atlanta twice here at Verizon Center in April. As they showed the other night the Lightening still has a team that isn't an easy match-up for the Caps if they get some reasonably solid play out of their goaltender so lets be conservative and say they split those 4 available points with the 'ning. However looking at Atlanta things get even more speculative, if the Thrashers come into the games with the Capitals still fighting with the Bruins, Canadiens and Rangers for the final playoff spot in the Conference, they might be able to fight hard and split the two games with the Caps, even though so far this season the Caps are 25-3-3 on home ice. Then we come to the Florida Panthers, the Fla-Cats have basically all but admitted they are already thinking about next season, so even though the game is on their home ice in Sunrise, I'll assume the Caps win and sweep this years series 6-0 since in the first 5 contests this season the Caps have outscored the Panthers 26 - 12. So just from playing 0.625 hockey against a set of opponents against who the Caps have been 0.825 so far this season, they should capture another 10 points putting them at a season total of at least 106 points.

The Caps have another five (5) games against other Eastern Conference teams from outside the Southeastern Division. They play Pittsburgh once more here at Verizon Center on 3/24 and once in Pittsburgh on 4/6 - the second game of a back to back and probably the hardest challenge for the Capitals in the remaining 17 games; Boston twice both games here in DC on 4/5 and then in the Caps final game of the season on 4/12; and Ottawa here in DC on 3/30. So it's not unfathomable to see the Caps snagging at least 6 of those 10 points which would put them at a season total of at least 112 points, which would be their best season total ever and that doesn't even take into account the other three games the Caps have to play against Western Conference opponents before the season concludes. The Caps play Dallas - their next opponent - on Monday Evening here at Verizon Center. The Caps come into the game riding a three game winning streak while the Stars have lost their last three and are rapidly sliding out of the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference so I'll call that one for the Caps. On Sunday 3/14 the Caps travel to United Center in Chicago to take on the Blackhawks on National TV and while that will be "one bodacious game" I'm again picking the Caps to come home with two points.Finally we have Calgary here at Verizon Center on Sunday 3/28 and in that game I'm figuring the Flames walk away with two points while the Caps get one. So with those five points the Caps finish the season with 117 points and their best season record and point total ever. the amazing thing about this analysis and recap is that it is conservative since a) it forecasts the Caps to capture points at a ate lower than they have so far this season, and it forecasts they do so against a strength of schedule that is weaker than they face so far this season. That's pretty intense wouldn't you say?

Of course it all has to happen one game at a time starting tomorrow evening against Dallas. That should be a good one...


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