So on Sunday Morning I started thinking about the answer to the question "when can I start to comfortably feel this Capitals team might be on track to have a good season and 'go deep" into the playoffs?" I mean they are off to their best start to a season in several years and are playing harder on the puck than really the past four (4+) seasons, so that prompted me to think about this.
My first thought on the answer was ... well the season has to be at least 20% played out so that would be after game 17 - which occurs Saturday, November 15th in Saint Louis against the Blues. So by that time the Caps will have played ten home games and seven road games; of the 17 games nine (9) will have been against 2014 playoff teams, and seven will have been against Western Conference teams. That seems to be getting close to enough games to make a good estimation as to how the rest of the season will go for the Capitals, but just to be safe I'd say a few more games might be the conservative way to go before getting confident. So since the remainder of the month of November's games after the game in Saint Louis on the 15th are six (6) more games that include two (2) games against Western Conference opponents (Arizona and Colorado) and a home and home against the Metropolitan Division Islanders who are playing exceptionally well so far this season, I've decided to wait until after game 23 on Saturday, November 29th in Toronto.
In many ways that's being exceptionally conservative from a statistical significance perspective, but in a league at this level, where on any given evening any team can beat any other team; and injuries can drastically change how one lineup stacks up against any other team, I think that's the smart thing to do. Also consider that right now nine (9) of the sixteen Eastern Conference teams are playing 0.600 or better hockey and IMO it's only a matter of time before the Bruins join that group and make it ten (10) before "regression to the norm" starts to pull some of those teams down to the 0.500 +/- level and "the bubble." While I don't agree many pundits think the Caps will be one of those teams that regresses. Certainly after the month of November, a 14 game month for the Caps, is behind them and they've played more than 25% of the season we can legitimately decide if the typical level of play of the 2014-15 Capitals can and will continue to be markedly better than the 2013-14 team. That will especially be true with the understanding that by the end of November the Capitals will have played nine (9) of those games against six (6) different Western Conference teams, and right now there are six (6) teams who are playing 0.750 or better hockey.
All that said with the Caps heading out west this week for three (3) games in four days against Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, this road trip will be an important week in further solidifying the team's resurgence. While every game can in some way be looked at as a measuring stick, three road games in four days are never an easy trip. For my "money" success in these next three games is any combination of results that equals four (4) or more standings points. While first up Edmonton is one of only two teams in the league without a two point win so far in this young season, they have some young, elite talent, and two former Caps with "grit" Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon who turned 31 years old on Sunday so I don't expect the Oilers to be an easy two points for the Capitals. Then we have the Calgary Flames on Saturday evening in the Calgary. The Flames are playing 0.500+ hockey, just finished up a six (6) game road trip with a solid game in Winnipeg and will, like Florida was on this past Saturday evening, be a team that comes at the Capitals with a gritty game, solid defense and sound goaltending. That said the Flames will likely have Jonas Hiller vice Kari Rammo in net if they look at past results as a predictor of future/present performance. Still my point is Calgary will also not be an easy game for the Capitals. Then Sunday it's the Canucks in Vancouver who are one of those Western Conference Tams playing better than 0.700 hockey - 'nuff said.
So looking forward to Wednesday's game at Edmonton one can probably see from above why getting the season off to a good start is important and much better than getting off to a sluggish, mediocre start that inevitably leads on to "life on the bubble" in January through April. In the meantime I'll close this musing with my usual sentiment.