HARRIS: Caps have work to do to keep playoff streak alive

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Now that the Olympics are over, it’s time for hockey to get back to being just hockey again. The NHL season resumes Tuesday night and by Thursday, every team will have played at least one game. The Capitals begin again Thursday in Florida.

That’s the first of 23 games left on the Caps schedule and the post-Olympics stretch is all about one thing: Securing your playoff spot if you’re already in position and gaining a spot if you’re not.

The Caps, with 63 points in their first 59 games, would not be playing for the Stanley Cup if the playoffs were starting now. What will things look like come April 13, when the regular season ends?

If you shake the good ol’ 8-ball right now, the most likely answer it will return about the Caps and their playoff chances is “not likely.” Of course, you could have said that about the Caps at this stage several times in recent seasons and they’ve made it six years in a row. So a better answer might be “who knows?”

History doesn’t favor the Caps. After the Vancouver Games in 2010, the Detroit Red Wings were the only team not in playoff position coming out of the break to crack the postseason, according to a post-Olympics graphic done by ESPN the Magazine. They were only one point out and finished 16-3-2.

Odds don’t favor the Caps, either. PlayoffStatus.com gives the Caps a 16 percent chance of making the postseason.

None of that means it won’t happen.

Brooks Laich, the veteran Caps forward, said after a recent practice that players do pay attention and start figuring in their heads what needs to be done. Caps coach Adam Oates said he does, too, though not necessarily this early.

Hey, it isn’t early anymore. The season is about 75 percent over. Let’s do some playoff math and see if the Caps have a good, medicore or poor chance of actually participating when the postseason rolls around.

A good rule of thumb is it will take from 92 (risky) to 94 (safe) points to get in, though final point totals guarantee nothing. In 2007, the Oilers missed with 95 points and the 2011 Stars did the same. The Flames didn’t get in with 94 in 2011. But in 2010, Philadelphia needed just 88 points to make it and Boston got in with 91. Two years ago, 92 points was enough for Washington and Ottawa to gain entry.

Let’s use 93 as a best-guess number and say the Caps need to find a way to get 30 points out of their remaining 23 games. That is very doable, though it requires the Caps to play a bit better than they have thus far. They need 1.304 points per game and they’ve managed 1.067 thus far.

The real problem, though, isn’t piling up the points but the teams standing in the way of the Caps piling up those points. The late portion of the schedule is definitely the heaviest for the Caps as it is backloaded with power teams.

Washington has only 10 games at home, where it is 17-10-4 thus far.

It has 13 on the road, where it is 10-13-5.

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