Most of these Washington Capitals players aren’t used to needing to climb the standings to get into playoff contention. They had to a little bit last season under coach Dale Hunter, and some were around in 2007-08 when Bruce Boudreau’s team went from last to first.
That run showed “it’s possible,” defenseman Mike Green said. But that was in an 82-game season with plenty of time.
Even more complicated than the 48-game season, the Caps must contend with the all-Eastern Conference schedule as they try to work their way into the playoff picture. With exclusively intraconference play, every other game involves another team getting two points.
“The schedule’s so crazy,” coach Adam Oates said. “There is so many games that every night you’re looking and you’re like, ‘That team played again last night?’”
That makes it difficult to play catch-up, especially with opportunities to pick up points dwindling. The Caps have just 18 games left, continuing Friday with the second half of their back-to-back at the Winnipeg Jets.
Players try to avoid scoreboard watching because other teams’ performances are out of their control. But Oates said knowing the standings and situation is part of the job.
“We’re all aware of it,” forward Brooks Laich said. “You look at [Tuesday] night and you see Florida beats Carolina, which is good for us. But also you see Winnipeg. So you give a fist pump on one hand and you see Winnipeg comes back and beats Boston and you’re going, ‘Geez, I wish we could’ve made up more points.’”
After picking up just 25 points in their first 29 games, there’s plenty for Washington to regret.
But the anguish happens on a daily basis, thanks to the lockout-imposed condensed schedule
“Everyone’s playing everyone every night,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “Everyone’s always picking up points in the standings and there’s been a lot of overtime games as of late as well, and that’s really not helping our cause.”
Not just lately. All season. Of the first 222 games playing in the Eastern Conference, 43 were decided in overtime or a shootout.
The Caps were only involved in three of those games, so that’s 40 extra points handed out as they try desperately to make up ground. But players are right when they say they can’t spend much time worrying about other teams are doing.
Their concern is this stretch run.
“We’ve got to win almost 85, 90 percent of [our games],” Green said. “It’s just the bottom line. Our focus has got to be do or die, and if we do that, we’ll give ourselves a great chance.”
Yes, if the Caps win 16 of their final 18 they do have a great chance to make it. But that’s a daunting task.
“It’s going to be tough,” forward Marcus Johansson said. “No we’re not there and we still have games to do it on. It’s not over yet. We’re not going to give up until the end. We’ve got to keep trying and keep working.”
Even strong performances that lead to losses aren’t worth much anymore. But players think they can clean positives nonetheless.
“I think hopefully some game the puck will start bouncing our way and we will get some good bounces and get some confidence from it that will give us a little boost,” Johansson said.