Falling Back to the PackPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
More than two-thirds of the way through the 2011-12 season, it is safe to say that there are few similarities between the Capitals of the last four seasons and this year’s model. As we’ve pointed out more than once in this space previously, one of the hallmarks of the Caps teams of the last four seasons was winning on the road. Taking it a step further, another of the hallmarks of those clubs was beating teams they should expect to beat with some degree of regularity, and particularly in doing so on the road. Over the previous four seasons, Washington posted a combined record of 95-38-15 against the seven Eastern Conference teams that missed the playoffs. The Capitals were 44-21-9 on the road against such teams. Thus far this season, it has been a different story. Since Washington is currently also on the outside of the playoff chase, the Capitals’ 2011-12 record is measured against the other six teams (rather than seven) currently situated south of eighth place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings. The Caps are 10-8-2 against those teams, but more damning, they are just 3-6-1 on the road against those clubs. Four of those six road losses to non-playoff teams this season have come at Buffalo and Carolina, against what are currently the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference. In those four losses, Washington has been outscored by a combined total of 17-3. In those four road losses at Buffalo and Carolina, the Capitals have surrendered a combined total of 10 first-period goals while scoring none of their own in the game’s first 20 minutes. In their 30 road games this season, the Capitals have owned a lead after the first period four times. They’ve been outscored by a combined 33-14 in the first 20 minutes of those 30 road games. Those sobering numbers might mean that the Caps can no longer be expected to beat those teams south of the Eastern Conference playoff cutoff line. It might mean that the Caps are one of those teams. As frustrating as Monday night’s game was, the Caps go into Wednesday’s game at Ottawa with a chance to move into a tie for the top spot in the Southeast Division and a tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. This year’s Caps team is hard to get a read on. And with about five days left between now and the NHL’s trade deadline, it’s difficult to determine whether the Caps will be buyers, or sellers or neither. It’s also difficult to determine which of those tacks they should take.
Washington closes out a four-game road trip tonight in Ottawa against the suddenly smoking Senators. Not so long ago, the Sens were reeling. In the midst of an 0-6-1 run that put them on the brink of falling out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference. That seems like quite a while back now.