Monday, December 28, 2009

Top Ten Stories of 2009 -- Number 10: The Beasts of the Southeast

Well, we’re almost at another year end, the 35th year that will end without the Capitals having hoisted the Stanley Cup (including one year – 2005 – in which no one did). But in some ways the Caps got closer, or at least took steps to get closer, than they have in any of those 35 years, including the one in which they played in a Stanley Cup final.

It is in that context that we look back at 2009 and what, from our keyboard at least, are the top ten stories of the year (we’re not aware that decades end in the number “9,” so we’re not doing an end-of-the-decade look). So, let’s get started. This year’s ending fast…

Number 10 – The Beast of the Southeast.

Since Bruce Boudreau took over behind the Capitals bench, he has compiled a 39-13-2 record against the Southeast Division. If Washington beats Carolina tonight they will complete a perfect 2009 portion of the 2009-2010 season against the Southeast (9-0-0), and they will finish the calendar year with a 21-5-0 record against their division rivals.

The dominance is stunning in other measures as well. In the 25 games played against the Southeast so far in 2009, the Caps…

-- Outscored their opponents by 100-74.

-- Had a power play success rate of 23.4 percent.

-- Killed off 84.9 percent of the shorthanded situations they faced.

-- Scored at least five goals in a game as many times as they were held to fewer than four (eight times).

-- Had two of the three shutouts the team recorded for the year.

-- Only once lost consecutive games to division opponents (March 1-3 against Florida and Carolina).

-- Have won 12 of the last 13 games played against the Southeast.

Individually, the Caps also dominated the competition. For example…

-- Alex Ovechkin was 15-21-36 in 22 games against Southeast Division competition. In those 22 games he was held without a point only three times (twice by Atlanta).

-- Alexander Semin was 13-17-30 in 21 games. He had nine multi-point games against the Southeast for the year.

-- Nicklas Backstrom was 6-25-31 in 25 games, with ten multi-point games. He is also a plus-13 in those games.

-- Mike Green was 12-11-23 in 22 games, including 11 goals in 15 games in the 2009 portion of the 2008-2009 season.

-- Brooks Laich was 7-14-21 in 25 games and had three three-point games.

One could argue that being the “Beast of the Southeast” isn’t much of an accomplishment, but this is a division that has had over significant stretches this season three teams in the top eight of the Eastern Conference (Washington, Atlanta, Florida). At the moment, the Southeast has three teams with better than .500 records (in standings points) against teams in the Eastern Conference outside the Southeast Division. Are Atlanta and Florida teetering on the playoff edge because they’re not very good, or are they there because neither have found a way to beat the Caps (The Thrashers are 0-2-0, the Panthers are 0-3-0)?

But with the NHL schedule as division-centric as it is (still), a team has to make hay while the sun shines in its own field. And the Caps haven’t lost a game in regulation to an SE team at home since last March 3rd (a 5-2 loss to Carolina, curiously enough). The Caps have built that strong foundation of winning against the Division as a basis for keeping among the top teams, points-wise, in the Eastern Conference and using it as a springboard for playoff seeding. Such things don’t guarantee playoff success (since the Caps are 1-2 in playoff series over the past two years), but all things considered, we would still want that home-ice advantage come springtime.

For that, being the “Beast of the Southeast” is the 10th top story of 2009.

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