"My goal is I just want to qualify for the playoffs. I don't think it matters how many points we finish with. I want us to enter the playoffs playing the right way and being healthy....I think our guys may be unconsciously pacing themselves a little bit, I do. I think that. (emphasis added)"Well, let's take a look at that for a moment. Twenty-one games is about one quarter of an NHL season. It is also the number of games the Capitals have played since Thanksgiving. Consider this set of numbers:
This happens to be the individual and combined offensive output of Alexander Semin, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green, respectively, over the past 21 games played by the Caps. If you were to project that output over a season, it would look like this...
Those 56 goals scored by these four players combined -- the heart of the Caps' offense -- represents the average number of goals scored per 82 games by Ovechkin alone over his career coming into this season.
And here is something else to ponder. In these 21 games since Thanksgiving the Caps are 9-7-5. If they continue that "pace" over the last 38 games of the season they will finish with 97 points. It might sound like a lot; it would have, in fact, been the fifth highest standings point total in the Eastern Conference last season. But the eighth-place Atlanta Thrashers over their first 45 games this season are on a 93-point pace. And ninth-place Carolina is on a 92-point pace over the season thus far, although at the pace of their last 21 games they would finish with 96 points.
Maybe in the last 21 games of the season the light will come on, and the Caps will make that push toward the playoffs, getting their game rounded out for a deep playoff run. Can anyone really count on that, though? The point here is that while one has to believe this team is simply too good and too talented to coast through the rest of the regular season, the pace at which the Caps are securing standings points puts them in danger of pacing themselves right into tee times in April. And snapping out of it has to start with this quartet of players. Otherwise, the Southeast might send three teams to the playoffs, and the Caps might not be one of them.