The Last 15, The Next 15

That worked out well, last night’s trouncing of the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center. The Caps got secondary scoring (maybe even third-ary scoring), they exorcised the Tim Thomas demons that have plagued them for a few seasons now, and Alex Ovechkin reached a big milestone in front of the home folks, doing so with his usual blend of verve and panache. The crowd was large and loud, and the Caps came away with a pair of desperately needed points.

They’ve got 70 now, matching the total of each of the last two seasons, and there are 15 games remaining with which to pad that sum. Last night proved to be a great start to what some of us believe is a crucial week in this stretch drive. Corey Masisak and I were discussing this week’s slate before last night’s game. It’s a daunting one, with four games in seven days, but as Corey and I were noting, it’s mostly made daunting by the Caps’ recent history against this week’s foes. Prior to last night, the Bruins and Sabres were the only Eastern Conference teams the Caps had not defeated this season, and Washington crossed Boston off that list on Monday. Buffalo, Boston and Pittsburgh are the next three opponents, and even with last night’s win, the Caps are a combined 6-19-7 against those three teams since the lockout ended.

We still don’t know how many points will be required to squeak into the playoffs, but that Carolina disappearance that some pundits predicted after Rod Brind’Amour’s knee injury has yet to materialize. Carolina has won four of its last five and is 7-2-1 in its last 10 games. The Hurricanes are sixth in the league in scoring with an average of 2.97 goals per game. They’ve averaged 3.5 goals per game in the eight games since Brind’Amour’s injury.

Carolina has allowed the fourth highest number of goals in the league this season at 3.1 per game. Since Brind’Amour’s injury however, they’ve allowed 2.88 goals per game. In their last six games, the Canes have surrendered only 2.33 goals per game. The Hurricanes are in action tonight against the lame-duck Thrashers (0-4-3 in their last seven), so the Capitals can’t expect much help.

The Caps are eighth in the league in goals scored with an average of 2.91 per contest. Washington is 24th in goals against, giving up 2.96 goals per game. While Washington’s recent offensive explosion has been very noticeable (scoring 10 goals in a game will draw some attention), the Caps have quietly gotten much better at the other end of the ice, too. And not just in the few games since goaltender Cristobal Huet’s arrival.

Since surrendering a six-pack to Carolina in the last meeting between the two teams on Feb. 23, the Caps have allowed just eight goals in five games. Washington has allowed just 36 goals in its last 15 games, a rate of just 2.4 goals per game. Discounting empty-net tallies, the aforementioned Carolina game is the only one in the last 15 in which Washington has allowed more than three goals. Prior to the last 15 games, the Caps had surrendered an average of 3.12 goals per game. That’s almost 25% fewer goals allowed during that span, a fairly significant amount.

The Sabres will provide a strong test to the Caps’ recently minted defensive mettle tomorrow. Buffalo has nicked the Caps for 51 goals in 11 games (4.64 goals per game) against Washington since the lockout, forging a 9-2 record against the Caps in the process.

Let’s hope the improved team defense (noted above), the improved penalty kill (84.2% in the last 15 games) and the improved power play (24.1%) in the last 15 games combines to put the Caps in the win column against the Sabres. Even without the departed Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, the Sabres are averaging three goals a game this season, the fifth most in the league.

If Washington had allowed 2.4 goals per game, had a penalty killing outfit at 84.2% and had a power play unit clicking at 24.1% over a full season, it would rank fifth, seventh and second, respectively in those three categories.

With all that good stuff going on, you’d figure the Caps for better than the 7-5-3 they’ve managed over those frequently referenced previous 15 games. Hopefully, the 3-1-1 mark in their last five is more indicative of what we can expect over the next — and last — 15 games of the season. I’m guessing a 7-5-3 mark over their next 15 games won’t be enough to propel the Caps into the playoffs.

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7 Comments on “The Last 15, The Next 15”

  1. AJD Says:

    I’ll go out on a limb here, and say that 91 points gets the Caps into the playoffs, and 90 does not. You will note that the last two seasons, the 9th place team in the East had 90 and 91 points respectively.

    So, do the Caps have a 10-4-1 streak in them? All the signs are positive. The Big O is heating up again; Huet looks like a real good option in net; and I like Federov to cement a second dangerous scoring line. The D is a problem child that isn’t going to go away, but this team is going to win with offense and goaltending. Period.

    I’m keeping the faith: the caps will hit .667 and win 10 of the next 15, and pick up a garbage point somewhere in the losses, and sneak into the playoffs.

  2. doug Says:

    I have faith, but this is a tall order indeed. They need 4 of the next 6 points (Buffalo/Boston/Pens). It’s just too bad about the lousy October and November.

  3. Luc Bertrand Says:

    I agree with both comments. There won’t be any easy one until the end of the season. For sure, the next three games will be indicative whether the team has really overcomed its complexes against Buffalo/Boston/Pittsburgh. Don’t expect fireworks like yesterday for the last two meetings against the Bruins, they will look for revenge for sure. The six games against the other Southeast Division foes battling for probably the only spot available in the playoffs will also be very difficult. Apart from Tampa Bay, our record against them is not very encouraging.

    However, the level of production from the support cast is really impressive in the last few games, Ovie, Backstrom and Semin are hot and ice is broken for Cooke. Apart from the last game against Carolina, defense has played much better and goaltending is more consistent. Personally, I would use Huet in the next three games because he had success against the Northeast Division opponents, and Kolzig against the Southeast Division games (the Canadiens had problems against them).

    With a veteran like Fedorov in the roster and given the players George McPhee got last summer (Kozlov, Poti) and who are performing to their best, the Caps definitely have the chemistry to go to the end. I think it is worth the try since the nucleus of the team for next season should be solid even though the Caps might have a less favorable position to pick at the next amateur draft.

  4. notfadeaway Says:

    WE WANT 10!!!

    …wins. 😉

  5. CookeFan Says:

    I’m pretty sure after these up-coming 3, the only games of real importance to the Caps are the two against the Hurricanes (March 25 and April 1). If the Caps can dominate these first three the other ten don’t matter as much as the two against the Canes. There’s only two teams above .500 in the SW Division right now and if the Caps can keep above the poverty line in those ten other games, they’re a shoe in for third seed. This year Washington can make the playoffs with 90 points if they go 10-5-0 showing North Carolina how to play hockey twice in the next month. They just need to keep it simple and work the fundamentals until good things happen.
    I was waiting for Cooke to get a four point night this season, and now that he’s out of Alien Vigneau’s line-up, I know I’ll see it. Maybe April Fools day.

  6. Mike L Says:

    This is going to be a very tough stretch, in that most of the opponents are good teams (Boston is good despite the 10-2 anomaly on Monday, so is Buffalo, Calgary, Pittsburgh and Carolina. Nashville is also pretty good, although they’re a step behind the other teams in the list).

    The best thing the Caps can do for themselves is to focus on the game at hand and get points..ideally 2, but at least one. An 8-0-7 run would produce 23 points.

    Also we do have two head to head match-ups with the ‘Canes….those two games are the games that really matter. If they Caps go 13-2-0 and those 2 losses are to Carolina, it will still be tough to get in the playoffs…

  7. Muddapucker Says:

    My prediction is that the Caps need to win 12 of 15 or 94 points to make the playoffs Thats .750 and a pretty tall order. as one of the top eight. They can win 10, maybe 11 of 15 if they beat Carolina twice. Otherwise they need to win 12 games cause I doubt they’ll catch Carolina for first without beating them both times.

    It maybe possible this year to get in with 92 points, but I wouldn’t count on it, unless they win the Southeast.

    However, I think the Caps are one of the top 8 teams in the East. They certainly can do it.


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