Photo by Ned Dishman/NHLI via Getty Images
If you told Caps fans at the beginning of the season, that going into 2017 the team would be 22-9-5, they would probably be fairly content. That adds up to 49 points. Sure your 10 points behind last years pace, but I don’t think anyone expected a repeat of last seasons first half success. Their record and point total usually will put you near the top of your division.
Then again, as we stand today the Capitals aren’t even making the playoffs out of their division. Washington right now occupies the first wild card spot. It has to be a little frustrating to be the seventh best team in the entire NHL and not be in the top three in your own division.
Unfortunately that is the situation the Capitals find themselves in. The only top ten team that isn’t top three in their own division. Washington right now is chasing Columbus, Pittsburgh and New York who if you look at the league standings are one, two and three respectively. The Caps are seven points behind the Blue Jackets, (CBJ having played one less game) six points behind the Penguins (WSH has two games in hand) and four points behind the Rangers (WSH has three games in hand).
If the Capitals want to move up in the standings they might need some help. Why? If you look at the top five teams in the metro division (now adding Philadelphia to the three mentioned above) The Caps have played the least amount of games against western conference opponents.
The Wild, Wild West
Well, who cares? A game is a game and points are points right? You can look at it that way, the players and coaches are probably looking at it that way. The next game is the most important mindset. We don’t have to think that way and we can break down the schedule and decide which games are important and how hard it will be for the Capitals to move up in the standings.
The Capitals have played just ten games against western conference teams. There are 14 teams in the west you play each team twice and that adds up to 28. Washington still has to play 18 western conference games. Look at the Metro division and that is the most among the five contending teams. The Blue Jackets have played 21 games against the west, The Rangers have played 18, the Flyers have played 17 and the Penguins have played 13.
Why does it matter? Because interconference games are generally considered “less important”. They are the games that you give your backup goalie because if you lose, it’s not the end of the world. You lost but you didn’t give points to someone you’re trying to catch or someone you’re trying to pull away from.
The Capitals now find themselves in a situation that you are going to have to make up space while playing games against teams that they aren’t really competing with.
Meanwhile you have teams like Columbus who have just 7 “meaningless” games left. The Blue Jackets have 47 games left in their season and 40 of them will be against teams from the east. 40 times Columbus has a chance to not only get two points but deny their eastern rival two points, otherwise known as a four point game.
Combine that with two of the Capitals divisions rivals having much more divisional games remaining as well. Columbus has 25 in division games remaining, Philadelphia has 23 divisional games left in their schedule. The Capitals have 16 division games left. The Rangers have 17 division games and Pittsburgh also has 16 division games.
We can break this down a little bit more. Of the 16 division games remaining for Washington 11 of them are against the four teams they are competing with. They have 3 games against the Flyers, Rangers and Blue Jackets and 2 games against the Penguins. Do well in those games and you erase the western games. The bad news here, so far this season Washington is 1-2-3 against the top metro teams.
I guess if you want to look at a bottom line, just win your games. That’s the only thing the Capitals can control anyways. But thanks to the rest of their division playing great for most of this season Washington finds themselves out of the top three in their division and based on the 2017 schedule and the amount of western conference games the Caps have to play they might need some help to catch the top three.
By CJ Paige