Former Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz used to remind his players (and the media) to “feed the right wolf”. It was his message to folks that there are always two ways of thinking about things – the positive way or the negative way. To remain positive in all situations is easier said than done, but the lesson from Barry is a good one in this case.
The Panthers have the second best odds to win their opening round series against the Capitals (The Colorado Avalanche have the best opening series odds against the Nashville Predators). But as we well know, games aren’t played in a sportsbook.
So in this this post I thought I would give you a few “big picture” positives for the upcoming series against the Panthers. I won’t touch upon head-to-head stats, analytics, strengths and weaknesses, etc., but rather dig into a few of the league numbers for first round series’.
Does The Season-Series Winner Always Win In The Postseason?
The Panthers took two of the three meetings (1-1-1) against Capitals this season (all by a single goal), but does that matter? Not really. Over the past 10 seasons, a team who has won the season series vs. an opponent has a 65-46 series record when facing that same opponent in the ensuing Stanley Cup Playoffs. That may seem daunting, but the key number for me is the 46 times the season series winner didn’t win in the postseason.
According to NHL.com, this is far more relevant early in the playoffs when facing teams within your own Division and Conference. Over the same 10 seasons under the same criteria, the team that won the regular season series has a losing series record of 6-12 when meeting that same team in the Conference Finals or Stanley Cup Final.
Does Home Ice Advantage Matter?
The Panthers will have home ice advantage against the Capitals, but does that matter? Nope. Over the previous 10 postseasons (excluding 2020 because of neutral site games), nearly half of all best-of-seven series were won by the lower seed (66 of 135; 48.9%). In the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, a whopping 10 of 15 series were won by the team who started the series on the road.
Among the last 10 Stanley Cup champions, six had to win at least two series as the lower seed on their path to hoisting the Cup: 2012 Kings (x4), 2014 Kings (x3), 2015 Blackhawks (x3), 2018 Capitals (x2), 2019 Blues (x3) and 2021 Lightning (x2).
Add that the Capitals had a tremendous road record this season (much better than their home record) this season and home ice advantage is a non-factor in this series.
Do You Have To Finish The Season On A Hot Streak?
The Capitals had an interesting month of April, which included four very impressive wins against top teams in the league, with two of those wins coming on the road. They had five games which I would call decent/good, where they won games they should have won or battled a top team down to the wire. Then they had four complete clunkers.
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) April 30, 2022
So does a team need to be riding a hot streak heading into the postseason? It helps but it’s not required. Three on the last 10 Stanley Cup Champions were .500 or worse in their last 10 games.
The Lightning have bucked that trend in recent years. The 2021 Lightning lost each of their last three games heading into the postseason, including the last two against Florida by a combined 9-1 margin, before eliminating those same Panthers in six games in the opening round en route to back-to-back Stanley Cups.
Do You Need One Goaltender?
The Capitals will head into their first round series with the two-headed monster in goal. The same two headed-monster they have been fielding for the last two seasons. But does a team fare better with a clear number one goaltender? We know from 2018 that simply isn’t the case.
Make no mistake, the Capitals will have a tough row to hoe in their first round series against the Panthers. It will take four very well played games, similar to their game against the Avalanche in April, for the Capitals to advance. Let the games begin.
By Jon Sorensen