Good Evening Capitals fans and a fine late, late fall evening it is since this evening the Capitals find themselves playing 0.581 hockey for the NHL Regular season to date and once again "on the right side of the bubble.: Additionally as one of my mentors used to say, "the trend is our friend," and with a record of 6-2-2 (0.700) in their last 10 games and 5-0-2 in their last 7 games the trend is indeed our friend.
That said, not to be a buzzkill, it is worth noting that so far this season through 31 games the Caps have 36 points and a record of 15-10-6 with 14 ROW while last year at this point (31 games played) they had 36 points and were 17-12-2 with just 10 ROW. You'll remember last year when the end of the regular season came along the Capitals all took off their skates and immediately put on their golf shoes. That's why it is important that two things we all seem to feel right now are true: 1) the trend is indeed our friend and the Capitals can sustain that trend for the remaining 3 1/2 months in this regular season; and 2) the Capitals of 2014-15 are a harder team to play against than the Capitals of 2013 - 14. So let's take a look and see if the data and facts support those two anecdotal "feelings."
First are they harder to play against? and Is the trend indeed our friend? Facts/data - through 31 games the Caps this season have earned a standings point in 21 games (67.7%) while last season they had done so in only (61.3%). This season they have ROW in 45.2 % of their games while last season at this point it was an abysmal ~30%. By the ~tens last season games 20 - 31 the Capitals went 6-4-1 with 4 ROW (0.650) ; this season's games 20 - 31 the Caps are 6-2-3 (0.750) with 6 ROW. Seems like the trend is more our friend right now than last season and the difference in ROW is some indication of the results of being harder to play against - the real driver of that is their overall improvement in Corsi For and Corsi Against, IMO as well. Team Goal Differential to date is +6, at the end of 8 games last season the Caps team goal differential was -5, that's a huge difference that says the Caps are tougher "on the puck" now then last season, IMO. So when you look at both the basic as well as the "fancy stats" and then also consider the roster's individual stats so the Caps have balanced scoring more than they've had in a long time, and it's obvious the offense is starting in the defensive zone with the scoring being well supported by the entire Blue Line Corps, the answers are indeed. Yes the Caps are a much harder team to play against this season than last, and Yes, the trend is our friend.
BUT fellow Caps fans don't celebrate quite yet, from what I can tell, the Capitals aren't even close to getting off the bubble and being solidly a playoff team quite yet and they have to keep up their current play of 0.700 for another months to be so, They are solidly in the middle of the "bubble pack" right now and we are only 37.8% through the regular season right now. If you look at the league standings the Caps are in 8th place in the Eastern Conference: 1/2 game behind the Panthers who are in 7th; 2 games behind the 6th place Maple Leafs, 2 games behind the 5th place Canadians, 2 1/2 games behind the fourth place Red Wings, and three games behind the third place Islanders. The , Habs, Wings and Islanders all have 6 more points that the Capitals but really all nine teams from the third place Islanders through the 11th place Senators are within a 10 point spread with 60+% of the regular season still to play. Even the Second place Lighting and First Place Penguins are theoretically within striking distance for the Caps, Panthers, Bruins and Rangers (10th place). However the reality is Pittsburgh has played awesomely though all sorts of adversity this season and (goal differential +28, overall 0.742 on the season through 31 games played) and the Lightning have been pretty solid across the board as well (goal differential +23, 0.652 on the season through 33 games played). However if the Capitals can finish out December (13 games total) with at least 19 of the 26 available points, 0.731, which is possible given they have 12 of those 19 points so far and have the opportunity to capture as many as 10 more, so "all" they need to do is "just" keep playing 0.725+ hockey. Then for the Caps to likely get off the bubble "on the right side" as quickly as possible, they continue playing that style, effort and getting those results through, at least their game on January 16th against the Predators in Smashville, (another 8 games) so they have at least another 11 points and that would give them a total of 54+ points through 44 games and give them a 0.614 record overall on the season. Then if the Caps can keep that up they would end the season with what I consider a magic number ... 100 points and be solidly on the right side of the bubble and very, very likely NOT need to play the "Wildcard Sweepstakes" to get into the playoffs.
But the quest for all those things starts tomorrow evening in Newark, NJ against those pesky Devils who are always tough for us to play against even though they are 2-6-2 in their last 10 games. The Devils have a -22 goal differential in 33 games played primarily because they don't score enough goals, they only have 74 goals for (2.24 GFG) so far, as compared to the Capitals' 2.94 GFG so far this season which coincidently is only slightly more than the Devils' GA/G of 2.91. So, as long as the Caps drive the net as hard tomorrow evening as they did last evening against the Blue Jackets they should come away from Newark with "a two point night." However, as I said we are talking about the always pesky Devils and that's why they play the games on the ice.