Let’s get this out of the way right now.
The Capitals will be playing in the new Metropolitan Division.
Say it out loud. Get used to it.
OK, neither can I. In fact, Glen Metropolit might be the only person who likes it.
But we digress.
The point is, when the Caps open the 2013-14 season they will no longer be the perennial defending champions of the South-least, a division that featured the less than mighty Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes and Atlanta/Winnipeg Jets.
Instead they’ll butt helmets with the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, Devils, Islanders, Hurricanes and Blue Jackets a total of 30 times. Full schedule here.
Not sure how Columbus and Raleigh fall under the scope of metropolitan, but again, we digress.
“I think it’s going to be really great, I’m excited about it,” said Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner, who has played his entire NHL career in the Southeast Division.
“We’re not going to have the type of season we had last year and still make it into the third [seed] in the conference.”
Ah, yes. Even Alzner admits the path to the playoffs, let alone the Stanley Cup, might have gotten a little steeper.
As part of their 30-game set against the division opponents, the Caps will face the Flyers and Hurricanes five times each and the Penguins, Rangers, Devils, Islanders and Blue Jackets four times each.
Included in those divisional games are a pair of back-to-back games against the Flyers [Dec. 15 and 17; March 2 and 5] and another against the Penguins [March 10 and 11].
“All the teams are going to be extremely good,” Alzner said. “I think it’s going to be very competitive division. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The Caps will play their other Eastern Conference opponents, including the Detroit Red Wings, three times each, including a Super Bowl Sunday matinee against the Red Wings, for a total of 24 games. They’ll play the remaining 28 games against Western Conference teams, including a home-opening tilt against the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks on Oct. 1
“I’m thrilled about the travel as well,” Alzner said. “Taking out the trips to Florida [one visit in December] and Tampa [one visit in January] takes a couple hours off the plane. Even though it was nice to get some sun every now and then in January I think in the end it’s going to be more fun playing in this division.
“It’ll be exciting to play teams like Pittsburgh more often. They’re usually pretty intense, fun to watch and fun to play in. It’s a cool realignment and it’ll be fun to get these rivalries going and see what stems from it.”
The unbalanced conferences – 16 teams in the East and 14 teams in the West – will make it even more difficult for Eastern Conference teams to make the playoffs. The top three teams in each division will qualify for the post-season, with the two other wild cards being given to the teams with the highest point totals of the remaining teams.
In other words, if the Caps do not finish among the top three teams in the Metro Division – can we agree to call it Metro? – they’ll need to battle nine other teams to get into the post-season.
Give us your thoughts on the new division name and where the Caps might finish in the East.