Simon Bruty for Sports Illustrated
This is the second of several musings during the capitals current bye-week. The first article discussed Coach Trotz’s midas touch, including his key effort to get Caps players to always embrace a “defense first”, and a more conservative approach to puck possession. Our follow-up post looks at back-to-back games facing the Capitals in the homestretch.
The challenge of the break and back-to-back games
The Caps have 26 games left before the playoffs begin for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Most of the remaining games will be challenging, which includes the games immediately following the break, and the back-to-back games remaining on the Capitals schedule. If the Caps strive for home ice advantage in the playoffs, every game counts at least until we get closer to the end of the regular season.
Although the Capitals are playing better than last season, other NHL teams have made sizable improvements and closed the gap in the standings. At this point last season, the Blackhawks were closest to the Caps in points, trailing by 7, but with the Caps also enjoying 5 games in hand. In contrast, the Wild are just four points behind the Caps now with still a game in hand. The Blue Jackets, Pens and Rangers are also closer to the Caps and jockeying for a playoff position. The Caps can’t afford to lose much ground and still retain playoff home ice advantage.
I wanted to blame the amount of back-to-back games on this season’s World Cup of Hockey and the mandatory break required by the NHLPA, but the Capitals only have one more back-to-back set this season compared to last season. The back-to-back games must have more to do with the need to share arenas with basketball teams and other scheduled entertainment events; alas, my desire to eliminate back-to-back games is unlikely to be fulfilled.
A Look At The Numbers:
Not only is the quality of play generally poorer in back-to-back games, but the Caps record is worse. In the ten 2nd games in the back-to-backs, that the Capitals have played so far, the team is 5-4-1 (.550) compared to 34-7-5 (.793) in the other 46 games.
An interesting sub-component of the back-to-back games is when the 2nd game is at home, the Caps have posted a 3-1-1 record; but when the 2nd game is away, the Caps are only 1-3-1. And wouldn’t you know it, for the next four back-to-back games the Caps play, the 2nd game is away — Rangers (2/19), Predators (2/25), Ducks (3/12) and Avalanche (3/29).
In April, the Caps finish up two back-to-back sets at home — Rangers (4/5) and Panthers (4/9). In these games, it won’t help that for the first five of these 2nd games, the Caps’ opponents will not have played the day before, so their bodies will be much fresher than those of the Caps. This scheduling discrepancy seems a little unfair at a critical juncture, but the Caps will need to find a way to keep earning points.
While the Blue Jackets have more back-to-back games this season (19), the Rangers have the same amount as the Caps (16), and the Pens and Wild have fewer, 15 and 13 respectively.
All teams have the five-day break, although it falls on different dates in January and February. The Penguins and Rangers have already completed their bye-week and both went 5-5 in the ten games immediately following their return. From the 11th game forward, the Pens have gone 4-1-1 and the Rangers are 3-0-0. It looks like the first ten games after break are most difficult, as teams try to regain form.
By Tim Foisie