Caps Need To Help ThemselvesPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
We’re four days and two more Capitals games away from the 2012 NHL trade deadline at 3 p.m. on Monday. Although the Capitals have flatlined for about five weeks now, they’ve also managed to remain within two points of the top spot in the Southeast Division and eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. The Caps didn’t help themselves on their recently completed four-game road trip, limping home with a 1-3 mark after scoring a grand total of three goals against Mathieu Garon, Justin Peters and Craig Anderson in the final three games of the journey. Eight points separate the five Southeast Division denizens. The Carolina Hurricanes and the Tampa Bay Lightning have each started to part with some of their assets as they look ahead to next season, but both teams are also still somehow hanging in the race in the wake of their recent roster depletions. Washington is now without consecutive wins for more than a month, a span of 17 games in which the Caps are 5-9-3 during the most critical stretch of the campaign. Since opening up the 2011-12 regular season with seven straight wins, the Caps are a sub-mediocre 22-26-5. If maintained over the course of a full 82-game NHL season, that pace would produce just 76 points. As dire as their situation seems to be, the Caps know the worst thing they can do is lose hope and confidence. “You can’t dwell,” says Caps right wing Mike Knuble. “It’s human nature to be down after a frustrating time. It’s perfectly natural. As professionals, as players, you learn to fight through it. We’ve all had down parts in our career. You need to just come back and you fight through it and you regroup. “This time of year, it’s almost like a match played in golf. You’ve got to try and beat a couple of opponents, beat the other teams that you’re racing with and try and one-up them on a night when you get a chance; get two points on them when they’re not playing, capitalize on your games in hand. There are little games within the games within the standings, and that’s how you have to play them.” The Capitals’ immediate future course is unclear. Again, they are just two points out of a playoff spot. But the way they have been playing – and with top center Nicklas Backstrom sidelined indefinitely with a concussion and captain Alex Ovechkin listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury – it may be unreasonable to expect them to put on a sudden surge. By their own reckoning, the Caps need to win 16 of their remaining 22 games in order to accrue the 95 standings points they believe will be needed to earn a berth in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. As the days drop from the calendar, the math starts to get more difficult for the Capitals. Winners of 20 or more road games in each of the last four seasons, the Caps are 10-18-3 on the road in 2011-12. They have 10 road games remaining, including two trips to Boston and one each to Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and New York (to face the Rangers). Even if Washington is able to run the table and win all 12 of its remaining home games (extremely unlikely, to be sure), it would still need to win four of its last 10 games on the road to reach its goal of 95 points. The Capitals’ last four road victories came over a span of a dozen games (4-6-2). “We’ve always prided ourselves on winning at home,” said Caps defenseman John Carlson after Washington’s latest loss, a 5-2 setback to the Senators in Ottawa on Wednesday. “But now you’ve got to win every game now it seems like. It is such a tight battle that we are just mailing these points in. That’s not this team. We finally showed ourselves a little bit of what we could do in the third period. But that doesn’t mean anything because we lost.” With their margin for error shrinking, the Caps need wins and points. And they also need to support each other. “When you lose,” says Caps center Brooks Laich, “the worst thing that can happen is sometimes guys start to point fingers. And we want to make sure that no matter what happens you don’t point any fingers. There are no excuses. You don’t point fingers. You win as a team, you lose as a team and if there are any problems with anything, it’s addressed in house. But there hasn’t been; there’s nothing. “The result hasn’t been there, but the worst thing we can do is get frustrated and start tearing apart at the seams.” On the good news end of the spectrum, the Capitals may not actually need to reach that suddenly lofty goal of 95 points to get into the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. Front-running Florida’s current pace would have the Panthers finishing with 92 points. That gives the Caps a little more breathing room, but only if they start helping themselves by helping themselves to some standings points. And soon.
Four years ago, the Capitals were sitting at 28-26-6 at the 60-game mark. They were in 11th place in the Eastern Conference standings, but just two points behind eighth-place Boston and two points behind the Carolina Hurricanes for the top spot in the Southeast Division. Fueled by the trade