The Caps have 90 standings points and it’s not even March yet. With a 43-10-4 record, Washington is a virtual lock for the playoffs. They’re ranked number one in goals-for and number two in goals-against. No one can stop them, at least not for long.
Ninety-six points pretty much guarantees a playoff spot (unless you’re the 2015 Bruins), and the Caps are just six short of that. With a good run this week, the Capitals could record their 96th point on Friday. With 22 games left to play.
Here’s the schedule for this week.
Those are three eminently winnable games. In other words, the Capitals could lock up a playoff spot before March.
No team has ever won 43 of their first 57 games before. And even with changes to standings rules, with 90 the Caps are the most successful points team since the Flyers’ 1979-80 season, who had 91 points after 57 games.
And that gets me thinking about history.
The two best regular-season teams in recent memory are both the Detroit Red Wings, the 1996 version and the 2006 version. The ’96 Wings, led by Fedorov and Yzerman, won 61 games (an NHL record) and secured 131 standings points. That’s the high-water mark.
Not to take anything away from the Wings, but that 1995-96 seat was notoriously uneven. In the west, the Stars, Kings, and Sharks all fell short 30 wins and 70 points. This season, only the Oilers are on pace to do so badly. (The tank-alicious Leafs might not hit 30 wins, but loser points will probably put them over 70.)
On the other hand, the Red Wings of 1996 amassed that absurd point total without the help of shootout wins. If the Caps eclipse the ’96 Wings’ record for wins (61), as they’re on pace to do (62), there will be an asterisk on the record, justifiably.
And that’s about as cautious as I’m willing to be. At the risk of being haughty, we find ourselves in the curious position of realigning our understanding of this team in the context of history. While up until now we might have thought of Ovechkin and Backstrom and Kuznetsov and Holtby, respectively, as the Very Special Player, the Guy Behind the Guy, the Promising Upstart, and the Solid Franchise Goalie; maybe it’s time to think of them as today’s Shanahans and Zetterbergs and Datsyuks and Osgoods. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised if some kid, upon getting selected in the 2025 draft, says he idolized Kuzy as a kid.
A Caps regular season this dominant is rare. Here are the four biggest point totals ever, acknowledging that overtime rules changes have led to fewer ties and more points.
|Season||Points||Offense Rank||Defense Rank||Outcome|
|2009-10||121||1st||16th||Lost 1st round|
|2008-09||108||3rd||20th||Lost 2nd round|
|2010-11||107||19th||4th||Lost 2nd round|
|1985-86||107||10th||2nd||Lost 2nd round|
If I put the 2015-16 Caps up there, they’d be on pace for 129 points, 1st in offense, 2nd in defense, and a huge question mark for the postseason.
And that’s the rub right there. The most successful postseason Caps team ever, the 1998 Stanley Cup Finalist team, was only mediocre in its regular season– in the middle third on both sides of the puck. And the Caps team with the best regular-season record ever, the 2010 edition, well, you remember how they broke your heart.
Those two all-powerful Wings teams suffered similar fates. The ’96 Wings lost in the third round to the eventual champion Avalanche. The ’06 Wings got first-rounded.
So while we’re in the thick of one of the greatest– perhaps the greatest– regular season performances ever, we’re also challenged to resist the cynicism and defeatism that seems almost automatic with DC sports fans. There are questions in your head:
Is this year different? Are the Caps cursed? Should we just harden our hearts now?
I’d argue that those are the wrong questions. Here’s the only one I’m interested in right now:
How good are these Caps?!
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