Well fellow Capitals fans it's been a couple of months since September when I last posted here about our favorite NHL team, the Washington Capitals. To say they've been good months for us and the Caps would, frankly, be an understatement. Right now, as of this AM, the Capitals are running away in the standings from 28 other teams in the league. The only team that the Caps are close with are the Dallas Stars who are also having a great season so far. I'm writing this blog post in such a positive tone right after a Caps underwhelming loss to the Carolina Hurricanes last evening for two main reasons. The Capitals 58 points in 37 games is truly an amazing 0.784 pace through the season to date and that's a pace that would see them end the season with 128 points which would likely mean another President's Trophy for them. That's pretty good stuff, though we know now a great regular season is no guarantee of post season success, so I suspect none of us Capitals fans are all that excited about the simple standings point total, I know I'm not. What I am excited about is the way the Capitals are playing and winning so far - look at the league standings and you can quickly see despite being an offensively potent team (the Capitals 117 GF and 3.162 GF/G is second best (to Dallas) in the league,) the Caps are creating scoring chances by taking care of things in their own end and playing defense first (their 78 GA and 2.11 GA/G) is best in the league. The Capitals goal differential of +39 ties them with Dallas for the best in league on that score, so you can see with a goal differential of +1.05 the Caps are a worthy opponent for any team in the NHL to measure themselves against. The other thing that has been noted by several on air and MSM print analysts of late is this Capitals team is basically strong and deep across the board at every position. That's why both they and the Dallas Stars are basically 4+ games ahead of the Los Angeles Kings and 6 1/2+ games ahead of anybody else in the league as they skate through the New Year toward the 2016 NHL All Star Break.
So as we look towards April 2016 and the start of the NHL post season, what's the season to date portend about what it will take to for sure make the playoffs? Well lets start with saying it's likely going to take 97+ points to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and 94+ points to make it in the Western Conference with the possible exception of the third place spot in the Pacific Division. This is a bit of an anomaly compared to recent years when the Western Conference has been clearly the stronger of the two Conferences however the strongest division (and hardest to get into the playoffs from) still is in the West - the Central Division could easily end up with five (5) teams in the playoffs and the number seven and eight seeds in the Western Conference will likely be as likely to get past the first round as not by any odds maker's book. At this point the teams in the West I consider long shots at best (odds of 25-1) of making the playoffs is really just Edmonton, with just 33 points in 39 games and a goal differential -22, even though Edmonton is in the Pacific Division and only 4 games behind the third place San Jose Sharks, I don't think you can give them better than 25-1 odds against making the playoffs at this time. Calgary, Anaheim, and Vancouver are all only 1 1/2 games or less behind San Jose so that means the Pacific Division will be a battle ground for the second and third place post season spots the rest of the way this season and from an odds perspective until somebody breaks away from the pack of Arizona, San Jose, Vancouver, Anaheim and Calgary in either direction the odds of any of two of those five teams making the post season will be pretty much equal. In the Central Division, those teams records and play to date - all seven of them - has been better than all of the Pacific division, with the clear exception of the LA Kings, however right now things aren't looking good for Winnipeg who is in seventh place in the Division with just 36 points in 37 games and a - 10 goal differential. Winnipeg needs to get more consistent on defense and keep the puck out of their own end and net more if they are going to turn things around and begin the climb to a playoff spot. Right now they are 3 games out of a Wild Card spot and with a 6-14-0 record against Western Conference opponents so far this season, their 109 GA and 2.95 GA/G (vs a GF/G of just 2.68) giving them a 20-1 chance of making the playoffs is probably being kind. Other than that in the West we probably have to wait till the end of January to start to draw any conclusions or make any real projections.
In the East, unless the injury bug hits hard or some other thing causes anomalous behavior to start soon and continue for some time the Caps will be the number 1 seed and seeds 2 through 8 will likely finish within 6 points of each other. Truth be known based on the NHL season to date, in the East any one of 12 or even 13 teams besides the Capitals could find themselves in the post season as likely as any of the other teams in that group. The only teams I'd put at greater than 25-1 odds of making the playoffs in the East right now are Columbus and Buffalo, and that's as much because of their goal differential and either their abysmal GF (Buffalo) or GA (Columbus) totals to date. Similarly for like reasons I consider Philadelphia and Carolina longer shots at getting into the post season then the rest of the conference, including Toronto.
What's it all mean - it means that the Leagues quest for parity in the interest of keeping things interesting longer through the NHL Regular season is basically working. To me that's a good thing, it means more games will matter longer into the season. If you look at the rule change to the three man OT it also means that's working as there are fewer and fewer "shoot outs" (45 to date this season) and that's a good thing too, but to me it still means that now more than ever, every game should be worth three points - I'd love to see it where if a team wins in regulation they get three points while a win in OT or via shoot out is worth only two points. That would mean the only real "tie breaker" that might matter is how you do versus Conference and Division opponents and everything else could be seen right up front throughout the season by your overall point total.
In the meantime next up for our Washington Capitals will be tomorrow in Columbus against the Blue Jackets now coached by John Torterella - anyone heading to Columbus for the game please make sure to bring a big water bottle to the game in case the former Ranger's coach gets out of hand, okay. Just kidding sort of. That should be a good game except for the inevitable Ryan Johannson TOI tracker that inevitably will be some pre and post game discussion given the current media and rumor mill chatter.