Just Don’t Lose in Regulation, Baby
I disagree with my esteemed colleague from the Post that this is a turning point homestand or that the Capitals need to get eight points or 10 points or any set number of points in this span of five home games. To me, we’re far past the turning point (Nov. 22) of this season and it’s all about avoiding losing streaks right now. That the Caps have accomplished what they have in the last several weeks without benefit of a lengthy winning streak is impressive. What they must keep doing is avoiding the accumulation of losses, also known in the modern National Hockey League as “no point games.”
You can get a door prize point for not losing within the first 60 minutes and that’s what Washington has to keep doing. That’s how they’ve been able to climb up to a tie for 12th place and to pull within four points of eighth place in the east. I don’t want to hear about how many teams they have to climb over.
It’s a small number: three. Florida, Atlanta, Carolina. That’s it. Do it and you’ve got home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
With Wednesday’s win over Colorado, the Caps have also pulled even with Florida in the Southeast Division standings. The Panthers visit on Saturday, Jan. 19, and that’s the first of four games remaining between the two teams this season. It’s also the only divisional game the Caps play this month.
Atlanta? The Thrashers are only two points ahead of the Caps and Washington currently has a game in hand. The Caps and Thrashers also have four games remaining.
The front-running Hurricanes are seven points ahead of Washington at the moment, and the Caps have two games in hand and four remaining with Carolina. Sure, the Caps need to keep winning and piling up points, but a 3-2 homestand (or a 2-3 homestand for that matter) in January does not sound the death knell on the season when 16 of your final games are against division foes and only seven points separate the top four teams in that division. Just keep those divisional foes in sight, and win those divisional games.
To me, the key is doing something they’ve been doing since Bruce Boudreau took over behind the Washington bench. Avoid losing streaks.
During Glen Hanlon’s stint as coach at the start of the season, the team lost 14 games. They came in bunches of five, four, three and two. Since Boudreau has taken the reins, the Caps have yet to lose consecutive games. They’re 12-6-4, so they’ve gotten at least a point in 16 of 22. Going 22 games without consecutive regulation losses is the longest for this team since it opened last season without consecutive regulation defeats in its first 21 games (8-7-6).
Before that, you’ve got to go back to the second half of the 2000-01 season, nearly seven years ago. That Caps team went 17-3-2-1 over a stretch of 23 games from Jan. 23 to Mar. 13, 2001. Included in that run were two five-game winning streaks. The Capitals have not had a winning streak as long as five games since then.
How many other teams in the NHL have gone that long without a winning streak of five games? None.
Twelve different NHL teams have had winning streaks of at least five games this season. Eleven teams had their most recent run of five or more wins in succession last season. Two more did so in 2005-06, meaning that 25 of the 30 NHL teams have had a five-game winning streak since the lockout. Boston, the Islanders and St. Louis had their last five-game winning streak in 2003-04. Chicago’s most recent five-game spree was in 2001-02.
No NHL team has gone as long between five-game winning streaks as Washington has.
Guess what else? The Caps currently have gone 466 games between five-game winning streaks. If they were to win their next three games to have their first five-game streak in nearly seven years, you could shrink that back to 464 games. And that’s exactly how long the Capitals went at the beginning of their existence before the first five-game winning streak in franchise history. From Oct. 9, 1974 until Mar. 1980, Washington did not have a winning streak as long as five games.
One more thing. When the Caps went to the Stanley Cup finals in 1997-98, the team’s longest winning streak was four games. Winning streaks are great. But avoiding streaks with regulation losses might be more important, especially since losers can still win (points) in the NHL.