Friday, April 04, 2008

The first round of the playoffs

For the Capitals, the first round of the playoffs doesn’t start next week, it ends tomorrow night.

Since the trading deadline, the Caps have faced, if not an insurmountable climb, then certainly an uphill one just to make the “final eight” in the East. Theirs has been – to employ an NCAA basketball tournament analogy – an 18 game “play-in” round that started at the trading deadline. And that round ends tomorrow with the Caps taking a 13-4-0 record into what amounts to an elimination game.

While some (certainly not Matt Cooke, who saw what Edmonton did a couple of years ago) might argue that such a long slog wears on a team and renders it spent for the Stanley Cup tournament, it is just as plausible that the white-hot crucible in which they’ve played has readied the Caps for the sort of tense, hard-fought, don’t-take-a-shift-off sort of grind that marks the two months of Stanley Cup play.

What sort of team do the Caps take into the elimination game and, hopefully, the next round? Well, the first order of business is to dispel a widely-held (even among many Caps fans) myth.

Myth: The Capitals are a weak defensive team.

Truth: The Capitals have allowed a total of 33 goals in the last 17 games – 1.94 goals per game. They have been especially strong at even strength, allowing only 17 non-empty net, even strength goals – one a game. Four of those came in a single game – the 5-0 shutout in Chicago on March 19th. Whether the stinginess is a product of Cristobal Huet’s arrival; the light going on over the head of some young defensemen like Jeff Schultz, Shaone Morrisonn, or Milan Jurcina; a product of the next progression in team development (now that they seem to have mastered Bruce Boudreau’s offensive system); or just plain luck, the fact is that this is a very good defensive team.

Here is another way to look at it…the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils are the top defensive teams in the East (2.31 and 2.35 goals per game for the season, respectively). The Rangers have allowed 32 goals in 16 games since the trading deadline (2.00/game), the Devils 41 in 16 (2.56).

Here are some other things to ponder…

Consistency...There is what is embedded in that 13-4-0 record…in 51 regulation periods of hockey, the Caps have “won” 21 periods and “tied” 21 others. They have lost only nine periods of hockey in 17 games. They haven’t lost a period of hockey since the first period of their 3-2 shootout win in Carolina on March 25th. That’s 14 consecutive periods of hockey without a loss.

A rising tide lifts all boats…That Alex Ovechkin has raised his game as the season reaches its climax is not exactly news. But it’s had a curious effect on the rest of the club…they’ve come along for the ride. Consider the following table…

Yes, Ovechkin has ramped up his goal scoring – a quarter of a goal a game since the trading deadline. Well, so has the rest of the team. They are keeping pace by adding another quarter of a goal a game to account for the rest of the Caps’ 0.50 goal a game improvement on offense. Ovechkin might be the star, but he’s not a solo act.

The Caps do not come about their 13-4-0 record by way of fluke or by virtue of a mere “hot streak.” They have been consistently good over the last 60 games – 36-17-7 (a 108-point pace). They have improved on that in the 17 games…for the Capitals, what has amounted to the first round of the playoffs. And they’ve done it with solid, consistent, often dominating hockey.


Scott said...

God...I told you to drop the playoff meter and advisory system. Man my foot tastes good...and i'm glad....

Erik said...'s gonna be very, very quiet for a while.

And this is a good thing.

Good luck to the caps and all their fans.