Caps prepare for first meeting with Rangers
Back in September, when Capitals players were asked about playing in the new Metropolitan Division for the first time, there was a general consensus that life was about to get significantly harder.
And so would the Caps’ chances of getting into the postseason.
“It’s going to be a huge change,” defenseman Karl Alzner predicted. “It’s going to be very, very tough for us. Maybe it’ll make us a little more prepared knowing what to expect in the playoffs. I think it’ll keep us honest for 82 games. We definitely won’t be able to sneak in like we did last year.”
Now for a reality check. Through the first two weeks of the season, the Metropolitan Division is the weakest in the NHL with 34 combined points, well behind the Pacific [51 points], Central [47 points] and Atlantic [45 points] divisions.
The Caps [2-4-0] are one of four teams in the Metro Division with a losing record. In fact of the eight teams in the don’t-call-me-Neopolitan Division, only the Penguins [4-1-0] have a winning record.
Under the new playoff format, the top three teams in each division qualify for the playoffs, with two additional wild-card spots given to the teams with the next best records. That could mean just three teams in the Metro get into the post-season.
“It’s good for us because we started off slow,” Caps left wing Jason Chimera said. “A lot of times you see teams 6-0 and you’re thinking, ‘Holy Smokes!’ That’s a lot to catch up.”
Instead, the Caps trail the Penguins by four points, the Carolina Hurricanes by two and the Islanders by one. They are tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets and are ahead of the Devils [0-3-3], Rangers [1-4-0] and Flyers [1-5-0].
Joel Ward said it’s only a matter of time before the familiarity with those teams breeds a little contempt.
“I think it’s pretty cool to play more games against our rivals,” Ward said. “It’ll be great for fans and for us to see the Crosbys, the Phillys and the New Yorks quite a few times. The only way to win is to beat the good teams. You can’t hide.”
Well, for now you can, but probably not for long.