Before the season, the Washington Capitals were viewed by many as a Stanley Cup favorite. Now they are fighting for their playoff lives as the stretch run approaches. Will the Caps turn it around and make the playoffs? Alexander and Tab debate…
Ovechkin and company will find a way into the dance
By Alexander Monaghan
With Friday’s win, the Washington Capitals now sit two points back of the Florida Panthers for the division lead. Moreover, they are only one point back of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the standings.
Considering the odds, I think they make it.
After Friday’s huge win over the Cats, the Capitals could be turning a corner. Coach Dale Hunter received solid netminding from Tomas Vokoun, while the team got offensive contributions from their two biggest players – Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. If those three players are the best players on the team from now until April, they will win a lot more games.
By that same token, the Capitals expect Mike Green to return during one of the next three games – which should be a boon to both the team’s offense and blue-line. Green forces teams to defend the Caps differently as he can make a long pass or just take a big bomb from the blue line. His arrival would surely mean more options. It also likely takes inexperienced defender Dmitri Orlov out of the lineup which gives the team less errors due to ‘growing pains’.
Before Friday’s win, the Capitals lost three consecutive games, picking up only one point in the process. However, both of those regulation losses came with either Braden Holtby or Michal Neuvirth in net, as the two young goalies combined for eight goals allowed. Now that Vokoun has fully recovered from his poorly-timed illness, you have to guess that he leads the team down the stretch, keeping the games very close in the process.
During the stretch run the Caps have 25 games remaining with only 10 of those games coming against teams currently in the playoffs. They also have one more game against the Panthers – which if they tread water, could tie them for the division. They also face the Maple Leafs twice before the end of the season, which should also be an important tie breaker.
The opportunities are certainly there for the Caps, especially since the Leafs and Senators haven’t been that much better. For that matter, neither have the Panthers, who were not expected to contend in the Southeast this season.
If the Capitals can string together a few wins in a row – let’s say five – then they should be a shoe-in for the postseason.
Remaining schedule will haunt Capitals
By Tab Bamford
I’m sorry, Caps fans, but don’t worry about sending in your postseason deposits this year. Washington is not making the playoffs.
There’s one really simple basis for that argument: travel.
Through Friday night’s game, the Capitals are one of the worst road teams in the Eastern Conference, posting a mediocre 10-15-3 record away from home. In those 28 road games, the Caps have managed only 70 goals (2.50 per contest), which is simply not good enough; they’ve been outscored on the road by 17 goals this season.
And the final weeks of the season aren’t going to do the Caps any favors, either. Looking at some of the destinations, on the Washington itinerary for the rest of the 2011-12 season, we see what appears to be a death trap coming soon.
From Mar. 10 through Mar. 22, the Caps play six of seven games on the road, and four of those six road games are against a would-be playoff teams (Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia). The Caps also have dates in Ottawa, Toronto, a second trip to Boston and finish the regular season at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers.
For a team with issues on the road, the schedule isn’t going to do the Caps any favors.
While Washington can control their own destiny to an extent, with two games in March against Winnipeg and two games left against Toronto, the Southeast Division-leading Panthers have a schedule that looks like Christmas down the stretch.
Florida’s last 10 games include two against Carolina (including the final game of the season), home dates against the Oilers and Islanders, and trips to Montreal and Columbus.
Like Florida, Toronto (currently eighth in the conference) also has a relatively easy schedule down the stretch. Indeed, the Leafs have only one would-be playoff team in their final six games of the season, and play five of their last seven in Toronto. After hosting the Flyers on Mar. 29, the Leafs have a home-and-home with Buffalo, host Tampa and travel to Montreal to finish the calendar.
Washington is going to need a little help, and will need to see a dramatic turnaround in their play on the road if the postseason is going to happen. Based on what we’ve seen so far this year, it doesn’t appear likely.
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