The other night, I sarcastically tweeted that the Capitals won “the equivalent of a preseason game” against the Buffalo Sabres when they pulled out a 5-4 victory in the shootout.
And hooooo boy, that got some people on Twitter BIG mad at me. So we’re going back in time and morphing into Livejournal blog mode to properly talk this one out.
The reason I’m writing is that I was really confused about the reaction. I also felt like I needed to “own” my comment and explain why I see various parts of the fandom at completely different places in what they think “is best” for the team we all love and root for.
First, let’s get some reactions to my tweet because who doesn’t enjoy some dunking on Ian?
Okay, again, sarcasm and I called it the EQUIVALENT to a preseason game. I’m not linking to these peeps because the point of this article is not to clap back at anybody but to examine what the heck is going on here.
Why did I call it a preseason game?
Because both the Capitals and Sabres, per MoneyPuck, have single-digit chances to make the postseason. As of Friday, the Capitals have a 5.9 percent chance of making the loffs while the Sabres sit at 5.2 percent. The only “contending” teams in the East worse off are the Ottawa Senators (1.1%) and Detroit Red Wings (0.7%). MoneyPuck and other playoff models see the two wild-card spots in the East as essentially a three-way race between the Pittsburgh Penguins (75.5%), the Florida Panthers (57.1%), and the New York Islanders (55.2%).
As of Friday morning, the Capitals sit five points out from the Penguins and Islanders who own the first and second wild-card spots respectively with 13 games to go.
The Capitals have one game in hand on the Isles, but everyone else in contention has games in hand on them, including the Florida Panthers who sit two points ahead and have one more game to play.
This is not an insurmountable deficit, your mind is likely telling you. That’s only two wins and an overtime or shootout loss away from being back In This Thing. The problem now is time. Thirteen games are very likely not enough to make it up. Especially, with how the team is playing since trading away some of its key veterans.
In games since the trade deadline, Washington ranks 32nd in expected goal% (39.7) and 3rd in actual goal% (66.0).
— good tweet pete 🌮 (@peterhassett) March 15, 2023
Coming into Wednesday night’s game, the Capitals were scoring, but their play was arguably the worst in the NHL since the trade deadline.
So to me, to the models, to the stats, the Caps (and Sabres) are both out of it unless something crazy happens.
Okay, so how do the Capitals make the playoffs?
I’m not going to give you the path I think the Capitals need to take to go dancing. I’m going to let general manager Brian MacLellan lay it out for you.
During an appearance on Elliot In The Morning after the deadline, MacLellan said he thought the Caps would need 95 or 96 points to make the playoffs. When Elliot remarked that the Caps had “a lot of clawing to do”, MacLellan began laughing.
The Capitals have 73 points and 13 games remaining. To hit 96 points, the Capitals would need to garner 23 more points in their final 13 games. They would have to morph into the Young Guns Capitals of yore (2007-08) and go 12-1-0 or 11-0-2 down the stretch. So, friends, they need to go practically undefeated.
This is their remaining schedule: STL, MIN, CBJ, CHI, PIT, NYI, TB, NYR, MTL, FLA, NYI, BOS, NJ
The Capitals play two of the very best teams in the league at the end of the year, Boston and New Jersey (who maybe could choose to rest players then). They have four difficult matchups against three East wild card teams in Pittsburgh, Florida, and the Islanders (2). They have games against two solid East playoff teams in Tampa Bay and the Rangers (who they recently lost to). They have a tough game against one of the better teams in the West, Minnesota. Then there are three games against likely non-playoff teams St. Louis, Columbus, and Chicago.
To go on the run that they need would be extremely difficult with that schedule, but yes, there’s still a chance. A very low chance. And the 96 number is not guaranteed to be the correct target either. It could be higher or lower.
If the Capitals manage to catch lightning in a bottle, they would earn the right to face the Boston Bruins in the first round, who have been historically good this season.
The awkwardness of the Caps’ situation
Brian MacLellan realized the team’s chances of making the playoffs were slim to none, which is why he traded many of his pending unrestricted free agents ahead of the trade deadline. MacLellan got value for guys he thought he might lose over the offseason, giving the team some added draft-pick assets, which is exactly what he should have done. He even traded a first-round pick to land Rasmus Sandin, who will try to fill the shoes of Dmitry Orlov in time.
Since the deals happened though, head coach Peter Laviolette hasn’t evolved. He has continued to talk about “big games” and must-win situations, gunning for the playoffs seemingly unaware of the math. He’s not focusing on the organization’s long-term needs through the rest of the Alex Ovechkin era. He wants the miracle to happen because it’d benefit him in the short term.
Laviolette on the STL game. “We’ve got an opportunity to climb tonight. It’s a very important game.” #Caps
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) March 17, 2023
The Capitals could say they’re “giving auditions” to several players on the current roster or more regularly feature top prospects who might figure into next season, but Laviolette is not doing so and likely won’t do so. He’s a lame duck who’s in the final year of his contract. Laviolette is limiting the time young players get, whom he doesn’t or somewhat doesn’t trust, as if the Capitals are fighting for a division crown or home ice in the playoffs.
MacLellan tried to take away Laviolette’s toys, but players like Craig Smith — a throw-in in the Orlov/Hathaway trade — are getting more ice time than Aliaksei Protas, who figures to have a big future for this team.
Despite signaling the team had pretty much given up at the trade deadline, this weird dynamic between GM and coach continues where they’re fighting for something unrealistic with little consideration for the future.
MacLellan seemingly can’t enforce or doesn’t want to enforce his will on Laviolette, perhaps because of Lavy’s seniority in the league.
So why is the Caps fandom splintered?
Tell me if this is fair or not in the comments, but the crowd at the Capitals’ game on Wednesday should tell you everything you need to know about where the vast majority of the fanbase is. Season ticket holders were loud and living and dying with every play, especially when the Caps won in the shootout. Perhaps, it’d be like this anyway, regardless of the situation, because this fanbase has become massive and has always been deeply passionate. And I love y’all and I’m proud of you. Hockey games are fun and the team has one of the greatest players of all time on it.
This faction is maybe uneducated about the team’s playoff chances, just doesn’t care, or is just happy to be watching their favorite team win in person. I think I ran up against some of these peeps with my sarcastic tweet.
For me, the season is over. Winning and losing don’t matter here. Alex Ovechkin’s goals sure do, but the only two things the Capitals can get out of the rest of the season are:
Many of the analysts who cover the team get disappointed about wins now, because it’s essentially hurting the team in the “draft position” philosophy. Some are even having fun with winning the draft lottery — the Capitals would have to be the 11th worst team in the league (currently they’re 13th worst) — and getting a chance to select Connor Bedard.
1st overall pick odds https://t.co/2nMPy5HBwX pic.twitter.com/SjNFB6842H
— MoneyPuck.com (@MoneyPuckdotcom) March 17, 2023
Why I think people get frustrated at me.
My opinion is that the Capitals are essentially wasting time due to disfunction by not focusing on next season and gathering the best assets possible. It’s just the cold reality of the situation.
But because I am considered a fan blogger there is this expectation that I should blindly root for the team to win. And I do, but, in this case, it’s more for the future and based on developing players and getting a better draft pick. Wins and losses aren’t particularly important to me right now, and I think that’s what is causing this disconnect.
Then there’s the website and our aims. For many of you who have read us for a long time, you know our tagline by heart. “Our goal is to make hockey as fun to read about as it is to watch.” I first fell in love with hockey because of the goal celebrations and the big hits. The emotion I felt inside as a kid when I heard the siren at USAir Arena was addicting. I enjoy doing this site because it’s a such a big passion of mine.
I love this sport and this team, but right now I’m totally not being fun. I’m confused. I’m caught in this weird limbo like some of you are where it’s hard to get excited about the team because the direction is so muddled. I don’t get it.
So please, let me have my sarcasm on Twitter. To the 30 or so of you who got big mad at me, I’m sorry I’m not super fun right now. Hopefully, this helps you understand why.
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