Friday, March 8, 2013

Digging Out of The Deep Hole and What Are Reasonable Expectations for the 2013 Capitals Season?

Well Caps Fans as of this date – March 8th, 2013 the Capitals are two games shy of the mid-point of the shortened 48 game season that is the 2012-13 (really just 2013) NHL Regular season.  Thanks to a 10-5-0 record since the first (1st) of February, the Capitals have almost recovered to an overall respectable record after a January that ended 1-5-1.  As of this morning, the Capitals have an overall record for the 22 games they’ve played so far of 10-11-1 (21 points/ 0.477 overall), more important run they’ve gone 7-3-0 in their last 10 games or 8-3-0 in their last 11 games depending on who and what you want to compare and talk about.  The Capitals have not lost consecutive games since February 23rd when they lost to the Devils by one goal (3-2), after losing to the Rangers 2-1 two nights prior.  They’ve not lost a game by a margin of more than one goal since losing to Pittsburgh 5-1 on February 7th.

Why do I point all these good things out?  Well because if the Capitals manage to get three or four of the four possible points available to them in their next two games, they will have recovered from an absolutely horrible start to this lockout shortened season.  That’s quite a feat considering they will have done so while instituting new systems and making large changes to their make-up while starting the season with a new first year NHL head coach – yes I know Adam Oates is a Hockey Hall of Famer, but he’s also a first year head coach in the NHL.  That’s a pretty big deal.  Now also consider this if the Capitals win at least three out of the four available points this weekend they will be at least 0.500 on the season at the halfway mark and they will have amassed at least a 6-3-1 record in their last ten games as well as a record of either 4-0-1 or 5-0 in their prior five games and a record of at least 10-6-1 since February 1st.  Better yet they will NOT be in a deep hole that will need to be dug out during the second half of the season to make the playoffs.
In fact the Capitals are/ will be poised to make a great run and that’s where I think they are likely to be.  Why do I say that?  Well right now, thanks to the thing I hate most in the NHL today – the loser point – 23 out of 30 teams have/are playing 0.500 or better hockey in their last 10 games and that means during this second half of the lockout shortened season something has got to give.  Especially when you realize that after this weekend basically every team in the NHL will have to play 24 games in 7 ½ weeks or more precisely 55 days.  That’s an average pace of 1 game every 2.25 games – that’s pretty intense and overall team health, as well as other factors like who you have left to play, etc. are all key.  Also where your team is mentally as well as physically as this second half of the season sets going will come into play.  Looking at the teams in the NHL who have 0.500 or better records in their last 10 games as of this morning I rank the Capitals at 6th in my own personal version of “power rankings:

Rank      Team                     Last 10 Games   Streak
 1)           Chicago:              1.000  10-0-0       won 11
 2)           Anaheim:            0.800   7-1-2         won 1
 3)           Boston:                0.750   7-2-1        won 1
 4)           Montreal:            0.750   6-1-3        won 1
 5)           Pittsburgh:          0.700   7-3-0        won 3
 6)           Washington:      0.700   7-3-0        won 3
 7)           Los Angeles:       0.700   7-3-0        lost 1
 8)           NY Rangers:        0.600   5-3-2         won 4
 9)           Detroit:                0.600   5-3-2        won 2
10)          Winnipeg:           0.600   6-4-0        won 1
11)          Toronto:              0.600   6-4-0        lost 1
12)          Ottawa:                0.600   5-3-2        lost 1
13)          Dallas:                   0.550   5-4-1        won 2
14)          Calgary:                0.550   5-4-1        won 2
15)          St. Louis               0.550   5-4-1        won 1
16)          Phoenix:              0.550   5-4-1        lost 2
17)          Minnesota:         0.550   5-4-1        lost 1
18)          Philadelphia:      0.500   5-5-0        lost 2
19)          Carolina:              0.500   5-5-0        lost 1
20)          Columbus:          0.500   4-4-2        won 3
21)          NY Islanders:      0.500   4-4-2        OT 1
22)          San Jose:             0.500   4-4-2        lost 1
23)          Vancouver:         0.500   3-3-4         OT 2.
So right now I’m pretty “high” on the Capitals and I have them in the 6th spot largely on the solid record and pace they’ve had over the past 10 games as well as the fact that since 2/1/2013 they’ve played 0.667 hockey.

So now you have to ask yourself - what if this is as good as it gets?  What is the “this” I’m talking about – well it’s winning 2 out of 3 on average the rest of the way to the end of the regular season is “as good as it gets”?  What would that mean?  Well what?  WHAT would that mean?  Would the Capitals make the playoffs?
My answer is probably; also it’s entirely possible if not probable if the Capitals play 0.667 or better hockey “the rest of the way” they will win the Southeastern Division.  Basically if the Caps play 0.667 hockey the last 24 games of the season they will pick up 4 games/8 points on any team that plays 0.500 hockey.  Right now Carolina leads the Southeast with 27 points in 23 games played (0.587 overall) but they are 5-5-0 in their last ten games and their starting goaltender – Cam Ward – is likely out the rest of or at least the majority of the rest of the season.  So for me it’s hard to see Carolina playing much better if at all better than 0.500 hockey the rest of the season.  So again if the Caps play 0.667 for the final 24 games while the Hurricanes play 0.500 the Capitals will finish the season at least 2 points in front of Carolina. 

That leaves us to compare the likely finishes of the other three Southeast Division rivals: Winnipeg, Tampa Bay and Florida.  Florida as we saw last night is currently pretty decimated by injuries and they are 0.350 over their last ten games; additionally the Caps currently have 2 games in hand on the Panthers.  It’s hard to see how the Panthers can finish this season making the playoffs or playing over 0.425 across the 48 games season right now.  In fact right now it seems to me the Panthers likely finish the season with between 38 and 44 points total.  Perhaps the best thing about the remainder of their season for Panther fans is they only have to face the Capitals once more and when they do in Sunrise on April 6th it’s unlikely the series will continue its current trend and the Capitals probably won’t score 8 goals.  Tampa Bay is also well under 0.500 with a 3-7-0 record in their last ten games and a current “streak” of 1 loss and an overall season record of 10-13-1 and 21 points.  Like Florida, their season is already ½ over.  It’s hard for me to understand how a team with so much talent, especially fire power, that in this offseason made significant investments in their blue-line, and overall for the season a +7 goal differential, can have such a poor record their last ten games.  Then you look at the underlying data and faces and you see they started the season on fire (January 5-1-0), but since 2/1/2013 they’ve gone 5-12-1.  Their defense has been as porous as their offense has been prolific.  Since February 1st while they’ve played 0.306 hockey they’ve scored 53 and allowed 60 goals.  Basically Tampa Bay needs their blueliners to play much better and they need a reliable goaltender.  I say that from looking at the numbers and from watching them when they’ve played the Capitals. Tampa Bay has an awesome power play and their forwards still can forecheck and backcheck with the best teams in the league.  That said this year doesn’t seem to be the year.  Even if Steve Yzerman picks up a goaltender, their blueline corps is still not playing well as a unit and that isn’t likely to be fixed overnight.  For that reason, it’s hard to see Tampa Bay playing better than 0.500 hockey the rest of the season or finishing with more than 45 points. 
That leaves one worry for the Capitals – if they continue to play 0.667 or better – the Winnipeg Jets.  Let me say this, I think the Capitals should worry about Winnipeg.  The Jets are 6-4-0 in their last ten games; they have a2 point/1 game lead over the Capitals in the standings – the one game the Caps have in hand on the Jets.  Other than Toby Enstrom, the Jets are looking pretty healthy going into the second half and they are playing well.  They play Florida tonight in Sunrise and the Devils on Sunday in Newark.  It’s very likely that after Sunday they will be at have at least 25 points in 25 games – 0.500 overall.  Basically what I’m saying here is the Caps and the Jets are likely to wake up Monday morning in a footrace with each other that will continue the remainder of the season.  If that’s the case and everything else holds true with regard to my thoughts as how big an negative impact Cam Ward’s absence has on the Hurricanes, then the answer to the question of who wins the Southeast Division is who of the Jets and the Capitals has a record of over 0.650 and by how much the second half of the season.  Given the pace of the second half of the season a couple of interesting things to note here: 1) during the second half of the season the Capitals face the Jets three times – twice in Winnipeg (back to back on 3/21 & 22 – another oddity thanks to the quirks of post-lockout scheduling) and a final time on Tuesday April 23rd at Verizon center in what will be the Jet’s 47th and the Capitals 46th game of the season.  The Jets finish their season against the Canadiens at home on Thursday April 25th. 2) Because of the quirks of the shortened season the Jets finish their regular season a little earlier than most teams and they also still have 6 game home-stand between April 6th and April 20th.  That’s a long stretch of home cooking and it’s unlikely the Jets will continue their subpar (0.400) play at home at MTS Center the remainder of the season. 3) The Capitals longest home or away stretch the remainder of the season is a four (4) game road trip from March 19th through March 24th and includes those back to back games at “the Peg.”  The Capitals can do themselves a LOT of good if they have a good road trip, win the full 8 point differential available with Winnipeg in those games and improve their subpar (currently 0.350) road record significantly for the remainder of the season, especially on that four game road trip.   So look this the blog of a Capitals fan and the facts are right now the Caps are playing slightly better than the Jets, also I still think the Caps are the stronger team of the two; my forecast/prognostication is the Caps take the Southeast Division with between 54 and 60 points and the Jets make the playoffs in 7th or 8th place in the East with between 51 and 54 points.
So while the second half of the Capitals season technically starts on Monday, I feel like it really starts now and I’m bullish on the prospects.  One things for sure though we cannot be confident about making the playoffs this season for a long time from now.  Even if the Capitals continue to basically play 0.650 – 0.700+ hockey the rest of the way, it will be over a month plus – likely 6 weeks (if ever this season) until they and we fans have any “breathing room at all between making and not making the post season.  That’s because in the Eastern Conference at the halfway mark of this shortened season, 6th place Ottawa is 3-1/2 games/7 points ahead of the Capitals and the only team in the top 8 with a less than 0.500 record in their last ten games is New Jersey with a 2-6-2 record is New Jersey who can’t wait till Marty Brodeur’s back is better.  If that doesn’t happen soon New Jersey might fall off the “back of the bubble” but I’m not counting on it.
Okay next up the Islanders tomorrow at Nassau Coliseum followed by the Rangers on Sunday here at Verizon Center.  More on those games later – I personally can’t wait to see the Caps tussle with the Rangers on Sunday and I’m looking forward to a solid road win on Long Island tomorrow as well.


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