For those of you watching the standings, you know that the Washington Capitals have created a sizeable lead in the race for the President’s Trophy. While that hardware would be a nice add to the organization’s mantle, the Capitals are clearly focused on 1) Locking up a playoff berth, 2) Securing the most advantageous position for the postseason, and 3) Going as deep into the playoffs as possible towards the ultimate goal.
This Week’s Wednesday Watch highlights the Capitals “Magic Number” towards accomplishing that primary goal of locking up a playoff spot.
In relation to the standings, the magic number is (at any given point in the regular season) the total number of points the Capitals must accrue and/or the number of points a trailing team fails to accrue, as the remaining games are played. As shown on the chart (insert), the Washington Capitals have 102 standings points heading into league play on Wednesday March 9th. If the Capitals lost all remaining 16 games (please, God no) and the trailing conference opponents won all of their games remaining, who could catch the Capitals? The difference in the Capitals standing points today, and the maximum possible points their opponents can accrue becomes the magic number. As the Capitals win or lose games, and the opposition wins or loses games, the number changes as the total number of points available will diminish.
Currently only the NY Rangers, NY Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, and Detroit Red Wings could “possibly” catch or exceed the Washington Capitals current point total. Carolina, New Jersey, Columbus, Ottawa, Montreal, Buffalo, and Toronto (while some are not out of the playoff or wildcard race) cannot catch Washington. Therefore if three divisional winners and two wild cards are available in the conference, only eight teams are capable of derailing a Capitals playoff berth. The teams with the fewest possible standings points are Philly and Detroit. Employing the formula of these two opponents max standings points (107), and subtracting the Capitals current points (102) we can attain the Washington Capitals magic number is 5.
There it is. Any combination of five standings points gained by Washington or lost by both Philly and Detroit would eliminate the chances that those teams could catch Washington, thereby guaranteeing the Capitals would at least earn a wild card spot if by chance they lost all remaining games.
Now, the race for the best overall record is a completely different magic number, as currently five Western Conference teams, and five Eastern Conference teams could feasibly catch or pass Washington. As the number of games each team has left dwindles, the variables towards clinching the overall conference and President’s Trophy will be simplified.
While the rest of the conference makes a mad dash to the playoffs, these final games will be a chance for the Capitals to clinch their spot, tune up their game, and get stronger for the tough postseason ahead. It is quite possible that once the Capitals lock up a berth, they will not know their first round opponent until the final day(s) of the regular season. Keep a keen eye on the opposition (in both conferences) as these tense races will be some amazing hockey.
By Scott Zweibel