As they departed for their recently completed four-game road trip, the Washington Capitals owned a decidedly unimpressive 4-8-1 road record. That mark didn’t exactly inspire confidence as the Caps embarked upon their longest trip of the year, but maybe it should have at this time of year.
For whatever reason, the Caps have a recent history of playing much better road hockey late in the season. This season, they’ve needed to do so and must continue to do so.
“It just takes teams a certain amount of time to get their click and feel each other out,” says Caps defenseman Mike Green when asked about the Caps’ tendency toward late-season road success. “It has taken us some time, but it feels like we’re finally coming along.
“We have all the guys healthy that need to be healthy and now is the time for us to start clinching these points. We put ourselves in a bit of a hole this season with the way started off and then obviously throughout we haven’t been consistent. But when you’re desperate you do funny things. Hopefully we get this done.”
The trend started in 2007-08 when Washington made its improbable late-season run to a Southeast Division title on the final weekend of the season. The Capitals were a 24-24-5 team on Feb. 3 of that season, and they finished up 19-7-3 over their final 29 games.
Included in that run was a 10-4-1 record in their final 15 road games. The team’s longest road trip of that season was a six-game run – the team’s last six road games of the season – that took the Capitals out of town from March 18-29. The Caps won five of those six games, including each of the last four in succession.
When Washington won three straight road games on the same trip last week, it marked the first time a Capitals team had done so since the ’07-08 Caps won four straight at the end of that six-game trip in late March of 2008.
In the following season of 2008-09, the Capitals were 10-3-2 in their final 15 road games.
The 2009-10 team rolled up a club-record 121 points and established a franchise record with a 14-game winning streak. That streak came to an end on the road with a 6-5 overtime loss to the Canadiens in Montreal on Feb. 10, 2010. The Caps lost in regulation the following night in Ottawa, but then went 6-0-3 over their last nine road games that season.
The 2010-11 Capitals again won the Southeast Division, piling up 107 points on the season. That team won just six of its first 15 road games of the season, but it finished with a flourish away from Verizon Center. The 2010-11 Capitals were 10-3-0 in their last 13 road games, and they allowed two or fewer goals in two of those three losses.
Last season the Caps again struggled on the road early in the campaign, going 7-12-1 through the first half of their road schedule. But the Caps finished up with a 6-3-1 mark in their final 10 road games of 2011-12.
An important road trip looms ahead this weekend. Washington must travel to Buffalo on Saturday, Philadelphia on Sunday and Carolina on Tuesday. All three of those teams are in the same spot as the Capitals are standings-wise, on the outside and looking in as far as the Stanley Cup playoff picture is concerned. All three of those teams are within three points of the Capitals.
“I don’t know,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich of Washington’s late-season road success. “Sometimes it’s just gritty, grinding sort of sandpaper fun. It’s hard to explain when you get into those tight games. On the road, it almost seems like there is no pressure, especially for those players who are maybe struggling. They get on the road and the home fans aren’t on them and they play carefree. Sometimes that’s when you get your best hockey.
“It’s sort of a uniting thing to go out on the road and it’s an us against them [situation], especially when you go into a building like Philly or these sorts of teams that we’re going to have to face on the road. It’s a uniting factor. Our road game has improved, and we want to keep going.”
The five aforementioned late season road runs total 62 games and a combined record of 42-13-7. The Caps are 3-1 in their last four road games, and they still have seven games remaining on the road in the 2012-13 campaign. If they can apply their late-season road win rate to those remaining seven away games, the Capitals will be extremely pleased.
“We know that we’ve had a little bit of success,” says Caps defenseman John Carlson. “Regardless of whether we’re at home or away, we think if we play our game we can win every single game. Right now, these games are huge and the pressure is on us.”
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