Will Capitals have it tougher next season?

Will Capitals have it tougher next season?
May 21, 2013, 12:15 pm
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Since they rose to prominence in the 2007-08 season, the Capitals have heard all the talk.

That winning five South-least Division titles in six years was a lot like winning a bunch of Biggest Loser competitions.

The Capitals went 15-3-0 against their Southeast Division rivals this season and 12-15-3 against the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Next season they’ll be moved into a yet-to-be-named division with the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, Devils, Islanders, Hurricanes and Blue Jackets. This season the Caps went 8-10-2 against six of those seven teams [they did not face the Blue Jackets].

“It’s going to be different,” Capitals left wing Jason Chimera said. “We’re going to have a tough division next season, tough to get out, for sure.”

As part of the 2013-14 realignment the top three teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs, along with the two teams with the next highest point totals.

Caps general manager George McPhee pointed out that that the Caps would have made this year’s playoffs regardless of what division they played in and he’s right.

But the Caps were the only team from the Southeast Division to qualify for the post-season, while four teams from the Northeast and three from the Atlantic got in.

Many have made the argument that the Caps would have struggled to get into the playoffs the past two years had they played in one of the other two “tougher” divisions. Some say the Caps might even be better prepared for the playoffs by having to face the Pens, Flyers, Rangers and Devils more often.

“I disagree,” Chimera said, “Tampa was no slouch and Florida was no slouch. And look at Carolina, they made some drastic improvements. Playing a game in Winnipeg is like playing a Stanley Cup game every game.

“To say our division is weak, any team now is not weak. You take a night off and you’re losing a hockey game. Everyone is pretty equal nowadays. Everyone’s got good players and everyone can win games. I don’t think it’s a weak division but it will be good for us to get out and prove ourselves in a different division.”

As members of the new eight-team division, the Caps will play two of their division rivals five times and their other five rivals four times. That’s a whole lot more of Sidney Crosby and Henrik Lundqvist and a whole lot less of Steven Stamkos and Evander Kane.

No matter how you slice it, Chimera said the Caps will not be judged on how many division titles they’ve won, but by how many Stanley Cup banners are hung from the rafters of Verizon Center. At this point, one would be a nice start.

“Fourteen teams go home at the end of the season,” Chimera said. “If you look at what our team has we’re certainly capable of a lot more.

“We don’t look at just getting into the playoffs as a big feat. We want to go that extra mile and get that Stanley Cup. If you look at it that way, [this season] is disappointing. But if we keep knocking and keep knocking and keep knocking, eventually we’re going to beat that door down.”