There is but one more question to have the cousins take a stab at, and it really is the only question worth asking at this point.
Will the Caps make the playoffs?
Fearless: Yes, and here is why. There are 14 games between now and the trading deadline, and the Caps’ schedule is set up in such a way that they can stick a fork in Florida’s chances and deal a harsh blow to Winnipeg’s to win the Southeast Division. The Caps will face the Panthers three times in the next nine games, and they might be getting them at the best time, if you are a Caps fan. The Panthers closed the pre-All Star Game portion of the season by going 4-6-5. Of the 13 points they earned in those 15 games, seven of them came in extra time (1-0-5). Their lone extra time win came in a Gimmick. And when they have lost in regulation, it hasn’t been close much of the time. Of their six losses four of them came by three or more goals, including a ghastly 8-0 whitewashing by the Boston Bruins.
Even if you set the Caps’ three upcoming games with Florida aside, things do not look good for the Panthers. This is a team that has not won a road game in regulation since December 8th (they are 1-4-4 on the road since then, their only win coming in a trick shot competition). What is worse, Jose Theodore has allowed seven goals on 66 shots since returning from a knee injury. Perhaps the All Star break gave him time to recuperate a little more, but that isn’t a stat line that should give much comfort to Panther fans.
As for Winnipeg, they are five points behind the Caps, and the Caps have two games in hand. Worse, they have been awful in the new year, going 3-8-1 since January 1st to drop back down to .500 (22-22-6). The Caps get the Jets here on February 9th, and the Jets have a road record that is worse than Washington’s, if you can believe that. On top of all that, Evander Kane – the Jet’s leading goal scorer – has missed the Jets’ last three games with a concussion, and Dustin Byfuglien hasn’t dressed since December 23rd as a result of a knee injury.
The Caps might not light up the sky with their play in the second half, but this is going to be a long slow march of attrition, the Caps being the ones standing at the end, albeit on unsteady feet going into the playoffs. Ninety-five points might be the cutoff point for the eighth place finisher in the Eastern Conference, but the Southeast Division winner (and third seed for the opening playoff round) might not crack 90.
Cheerless: Sorry, cuz. A team that more or less sleepwalks its way through the first half of the season, gets it coach fired, doesn’t do all that much better with the new coach, stinks on the road in all three zones at even strength and on special teams, can’t get out of their own end whether they are playing Pittsburgh or Plattsburgh, and is starting the second half with their captain in the hooskow for an illegal hit is not gonna find a pony in a barn filled with all the manure from the first half of the season. Sometimes, it’s just a pile of manure.
OK, that’s a bit harsh, but not by too much. Take a look. Y’know how many times Alex Ovechkin has had a points streak of more than one game since Thanksgiving? Three. He had a two-gamer on December 7-9, a seven-gamer from December 20th to January 3rd, and another two-gamer on January 13-15. That’s not goals, cuz, that’s points. He had his first three-point game of the year in the game that got him his suspension. He hasn’t had a game-winning goal since December 15th, which happens to be his only one of the year. He’s gonna finish with fewer game-winning goals than in his rookie season when he had five for a team that won only 29 games the whole year.
And it’s not like the rest of the team is lighting it up. Alexander Semin is on a pace to finish with 21 goals. Brooks Laich is on a pace to finish with 15. Joel Ward and Mike Knuble might not ever score again. Between them they have one goal since December 7th; that’s 22 games. Mike Green is out, Nicklas Backstrom is even outer. The Caps are giving 16 minutes a night to a defenseman who is in his first pro season and who was supposed to spend it in Hershey (Dmitry Orlov) and benched Jeff Schultz in favor of Tomas Kundratek. Y’know when was the last time the Caps won a road game against a team in the top-eight of their conference? December 7th, against Ottawa. OK, they’ve only had four such games since then, but in all road games since then they are 3-5-2.
And then there is the goaltending. Yeah, Tomas Vokoun was pretty much keeping the Caps in games there for a while. He had a stretch there where he was 5-2-0 in eight appearances, 1.88, .938, and a shutout. But since then he has allowed three goals in four of five appearances. Michal Neuvirth had a nice shutout in Montreal a couple of weeks ago after he had only 31 minutes of work since Christmas, but then he gave up four goals to Pittsburgh. Maybe that goaltending run is coming to an end. In any case, this team is a bigger mess than a baby’s diaper. Add it all up, and they are not making the playoffs.
Peerless: Well, we know how Cheerless got his name. We see only one viable path to the playoffs, and the road sign marking it says, “Southleast Division Champion, This Way.” Given the absences of Green and Backstrom to start the second half (and who knows if/when Backstrom will return this season), the persistent domination of opponents in shots and chances in the 20 or so games leading up to the All Star break, the lack of consistent offense, the too-hard leaning on goaltending to win games, and that awful road record, it is hard to see any way short of divine intervention that the Caps make the playoffs as an at-large team. Their best, and likely only path to the post season is to take advantage of the fact that the Southeast has once more reclaimed its rightful place as the worst division in hockey (and perhaps not as good, top to bottom, as either the East or the West Division in the AHL).
The Caps have what looks like a favorable road schedule through February. They get seven divisional opponents and four others below them in the standings over the 15 games through the end of next month. But then there is that whole “home-road” thing. Nine of the 15 games will be played away from Verizon Center, where the Caps have the third worst road record in the East and only two more standings points earned than 15th place Carolina away from home. If they do not turn that around and take advantage of the weaker teams on the slate, regardless of where the games are played, things get rougher on the schedule dramatically after that. In their last 19 games the Caps will play 10 games against teams that start the second half as playoff eligibles in their respective conferences. Three other games will be played against ninth or tenth place teams at the moment likely to be fighting for a spot in their respective conferences.
It all might come down to three letters for the Caps – “R-O-W.” Regulation and Overtime Wins. At the moment the Caps are fourth in the East in ROW with 25 such wins, and they might have all but insurmountable leads over Florida (19) and Winnipeg (21) in that category. It will be the first tie-breaker to determine playoff seeding for teams tied in standings points at the end of the season. It might be how the Caps find their way to the post season.