Why the Caps need to win the division
At the start of the season I thought the Caps were a 110-point team who would play at last year’s level and only see a decline in their point totals from last season because of an improved Southeast division. Well, things haven’t exactly gone to plan, leaving our beloved team stuck on a 102-point pace. Ultimately, I believe 105 points will clinch the Southeast, that Tampa will run out of steam in the last third of the season and that the Caps will right the ship just enough to get to 105 and win the division.
Or so I hope.
For those of you who still harbor dreams of Stanley Cup parades in D.C. this summer it’s imperative that we win the division this year because teams that do not finish in the top four in their conference do not win Stanley Cups. Since the NHL went to the conference playoff seeding format in 1994-95, only one team seeded lower than fourth won the Cup, and that was fifth-seeded New Jersey in 1995, an odd strike-shortened season with teams only playing 48 games. Additionally, no team seeded sixth or lower has ever won the Cup. Basically, a team has very low odds to host a June parade if they don’t finish in the top four in the conference.
There is the “Just Make the Playoffs” contingent that believes that regular season performance isn’t all that important based on last year’s flukish Flyers-Canadiens semifinal matchup, where both the seventh- and eighth-seeded team made it to the conference finals. Those same folks will also point out that Buffalo made it to the Finals in 1999 as a seventh seed, Anaheim made it to the Finals in 2003 as a seventh seed, and Calgary made it to the finals in 2004 as a sixth seed. They’re right, but it’s not a path the Caps necessarily want to follow. Only 20 percent of 5-8 seeds have made it to the Finals since 1995. In other words, it’s a once-every-five years phenomenon within each conference. Additionally, two of those teams (Philadelphia and Anaheim) got “lucky” in that there were so many upsets that playoff year that they managed to play at least one series against a team seeded No. 5-8. So while it’s possible the Caps can follow such a path if they don’t win the division or sneak into the fourth spot, the odds are considerably against them making a run to the Finals.
There’s also that luck thingy the Caps would need if they enter the playoffs as a low seed. Considering the team’s history does anyone really want to bank on the Washington Capitals getting lucky in the playoffs? This franchise has seen its fair share of the flukish and the freakish, and with the exception of 1998, those events tend to go overwhelmingly against the team.
The takeaway: Finish in the top four or else we’re putting our faith in the hockey gods working their magic on the Caps behalf.
A few more comments:
- Bruce has received some criticism lately with his shuffling of defensive pairs, as Scott Hannan, John Erskine, Mike Green and Jeff Schultz have been routinely shuffled among one another. Only the John Carlson and Karl Alzner duo seems to remain intact on a consistent basis. The shuffling won’t get any easier when Tom Poti gets healthy. That said, I’m not against Bruce’s mixing-and-matching of defensemen. You’ve got to build comfort and chemistry between defenseman and now is the time to experiment and figure which pairs work best so that you can put your best foot (or skate) forward for the stretch run. You’d hate to get into a situation where the playoffs come around, an injury happens and you have to pair two defensemen with little experience together.
- Former Caps beat reporter for the Washington Times and CSN contributor Corey Masisak is leaving the Caps beat to go work for NHL.com. He will be missed. Corey had the daunting task of replacing the legendary Caps beat writer Dave Fay four years ago at the Times and did a more-than-admirable job. The D.C. market has always been treated to good beat reporters for the Caps and Corey was no exception. But beat reporters are paid to be journalists and report the facts, not give opinions. Part of me would have loved to see Corey put on a “columnist” hat every once in a while and give his true opinion on the state of the Caps.
- Two months ago I posted a blurb about how I thought the Caps penalty killing would regress to the mean, as the season’s hot start was fueled by above average goaltending, not a better penalty kill. Looking back I was wrong -- the PK is indeed better. The penalty killers have reduced shots allowed from last year and shorthanded goaltending remains above average. That’s why they stand at fifth in PK this year, up from 26th last year. Happy to be wrong here.
- It’s been a few months since I posted anything related to local college hockey. While Liberty (D1) is still the best team in the DMV, their path to a national championship in ACHA Division 1 is pretty rocky, as they are currently ranked No. 15 in the country. It’s UMBC that has the best shot of winning a national championship, as they sit at No. 2 in the Southeast Region of ACHA Division 2. Virginia Tech, Liberty (D2 team) and Maryland all look poised to gain berths in the Southeastern playoffs as long as they stay in the top 10. Solid year all around for the DMV at the college level.
| January 18, 2011; 2:11 PM ET
Categories: Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily | Tags: Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily
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