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.

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6 Comments on “Just Don’t Lose in Regulation, Baby”

  1. Mary Jane Says:

    THANK YOU !!!! Very well put!!!!

  2. sean Says:

    Vogs, could this be the first year that the 8 seed doesnt make the playoffs? It seems very plausible that the SE division winner could finish 9th or below. If so, has that ever happened before? 1-7 and 9 would go and 9 would get a 3 seed!

    Is it really possible given the amount of times they play inter division games?

  3. Jed Says:

    that doesn’t make any sense… the divisional winner is automatically in the top three…. or am i wrong?

  4. dmg Says:

    You’re exactly right in talking about the SE being the key. If I may quote myself:

    t’s quite possible that only one team from this division will make them playoffs; indeed that would be the case if the season ended today. So the question is: who’s going to go on a tear and run away with this division? Atlanta’s too inconsistent and has too many holes and Tampa Bay is just…bad. Carolina looked like they were going to easily be the class of the division at the season’s outset but they’ve been inconsistent on the offensive front (though still quite good) and Cam Ward’s save percentage has gone down each month. Florida clearly has the best goalie in division with Tomas Vokoun but the team is 27th in the NHL in scoring despite playing in the division with weakest set of starting goaltenders you’ll find this year and their long-heralded crop of young players, with the possible exception of Nathan Horton, are not showing the kind of skill a lot of people thought they would. Although it’s still possible Florida could have a good number of its youngster have a great second half and become a good team, Carolina is the team to beat at this point.

    Right now the Capitals are seven points behind the Hurricanes for the division lead, and have played two fewer games. If the Capitals can get wins (or even a win and overtime loss) in those two games they have in hand they could easily make up the remaining ground on Carolina just in the head-to-head games the teams have remaining.


  5. dumpnchase Says:

    I don’t recall it ever happening in the six-division format. I honestly don’t think it will happen this year, either. I think you hit it on the head. With the number of divisional games they’ve got, I don’t think it will happen. It may be mathematically possible, but I can’t wrap my head around that right now.

    The three division winners get the top three seeds, regardless of point totals.

    Even better now. The Canes lost tonight. So now the Caps are seven points back with three games in hand.

  6. Mike L Says:

    The playoff rules are that the division winners are awarded seeds 1-3 in the playoffs, regardless of record, and then the next best 5 teams in each conference are seeded 4-8. Seedings are retained until the Cup Finals, where home ice is awarded to the team with the most regular season points regardless of seeding in conference (so it is possible a division winner might have to start the finals on the road against a non-division winner).

    As for the Caps, they’re moving in the right direction, and while a 8-10 point homestand would be great, 6-7 points won’t be so bad either. That said, they’ve already got 2 of the points (vs. Col.) and there really is only one really tough game on the list: Ottawa (although the Caps are 3-0 against them…) Philly, Edmonton and Florida are not particularly good. After that the schedule gets a little tougher, with a trip to Pitt, followed by Home-and-homes with Toronto and Montreal. If the Caps go 3-1 on the remaining homestand, lose in Pitt, split the home-homes (picking up one OT loss in those), thats 5-3-1 for the rest of the month, which gets the record to 23-23-6… .500.

    This is do-able.

    One more thing and then I’ll shut up. In terms of actual losses in the division, the totals are:

    24 – Carolina, Atlanta, Florida
    25 – Washington
    28 – Tampa Bay

    If the Caps keep up their current pace, they’ll move into first place in February, cruise to a division title…

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