Green, Caps getting healthy
Two years ago, in their only season under Dale Hunter, the Capitals needed to go 10-4-3 in their final 17 games to grab one of the two final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference
Last season, their first under Adam Oates, the Caps used a 15-2-2 finish to nail down a Southeast Division title and the third seed in the East.
With 23 games remaining in their regular season, the Caps are tied with the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets with 63 points, one behind eighth-place Detroit in the Eastern Conference standings.
So how many points will the Caps need to overtake three teams and earn a spot in the playoffs for a seventh straight season?
“Anything less than 92 you’re going to need a major stroke of luck to get in,” Capitals left wing Brooks Laich predicted. “I think that’s the absolute cutoff point. As you get a point or two or three above that, your chances get exponentially better.”
If 92 points is the absolute minimum the Caps need to make the playoffs – a point we illustrated two weeks ago – they would need at least 29 points in their final 23 games, which equates to something like 13-7-3 or six games over .500.
“All right, well it’s good to know that,” Caps right wing Troy Brouwer said with a laugh. “We’re going to start with the first three or four games. We can’t look at the big picture here. We’ve got to make little segments, little series going forward. If we can win those series we should be in good shape and in the playoff picture.”
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Without a doubt, the road ahead is a difficult one. Seven of the Capitals’ final 23 games are against divisional leaders [3 against Boston, 2 against Pittsburgh, 1 each against Anaheim and St. Louis] and another is against defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago.
Of their remaining games, 16 are against teams currently in playoff position and 13 are on the road, where they are 10-13-5 this season.
“We just have to stick together,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. “We can’t have one group and another group and another group. We have to be together and fight through it together.
“If it doesn’t happen we’re not going to make the playoffs and we’re not going to get success. I know these guys a long time and I’m pretty sure we’re going to be fine. Everything is going to be all right.”
There are, however, some adjustments the Capitals believe they need to make and it begins with preparation and execution.
Defenseman Karl Alzner said the Capitals need to take every team seriously, especially the ones below them in the standings.
“Sometimes I think it’s a mental thing for us, where we want things to come a little bit easy,” Alzner said. “It takes a ton of hard work to get those breaks. When you’re a team that’s always working hard and playing the same way, other teams will come in with a different mindset. I think we have everything, we just need to work harder and work smarter.”
According to Brouwer, that starts in practice.
“We have to get more robotic in our passes and our execution,” he said. “It’s surprising you even have to address it in the NHL, but that’s the reality of it. We’ve got to do a better job.
“It starts in practice, making sure we’re crisp and not slowing guys down, so that when you get into a game you don’t have to think about making a 10-foot pass or a 12-foot pass, you just make the pass.”