Welcome to Caps 'Round the Clock, a blog covering the Washington Capitals and the NHL. In season, I update the Blog after every practice and on game day with Caps news and information, and then provide a recap and analysis after each contest. I also write a periodical Prospect Watch and weekly feature pieces on the state of the Men in Red and other things Capitals. And of course, I will post videos and tidbits from around the League and offer my two cents as the season wears on. In the offseason, I write a Report Card for each player, and will keep you updated on all the news about the Caps through the summer. I'm glad you're here, and hope you come back!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Can We Catch the Lightning?

John Carlson blocks a shot in a November win over Tampa.
With 27 games remaining on their schedules, the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning are separated by a mere three standings points in the Southeast Division.  This is an unfamiliar position for the Bruce Boudreau Capitals, who have grown accustomed to blowing away their division over the two past seasons en route to a high playoff seed and home-ice advantage.  This season, not only is the Southeast Division in jeopardy, but the Capitals may face an early exit from the playoffs if they draw the Penguins, Flyers, or other very strong team in the first round.  Because of the playoff collapse last year, some may suggest that your positioning does not matter, but the fact remains that if the Caps earn home-ice in the first round, the task of exorcising their playoff demons does get that much easier.  So, the question lingers: what are the Capitals' chances of winning the Division?  To answer it, I've broken down each area of the two teams for comparison.
Offense: There is no doubt in my or anyone else's mind that the Capitals have the offensive firepower on their roster to blow any opponent out of the water on any given night.  Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Alexander Semin are a fierce trio, and they all have the talent to dominate a game.  The Capitals also have secondary players who can score, and can expect scoring from any of their four lines.  But for some reason, they have all struggled and are having below average years, and that has hurt the team.  The Lightning, on the other hand, are pretty much a one-line team.  But boy, is that line something fierce.  Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Steve Downie are all perfect compliments to each other and together make arguably hockey's best and most productive attacking trifecta.  The Lightning also have players who have shown offensive brilliance in the past, like Vinny Lecavalier, Simon Gagne, and Ryan Malone, but they too have struggled to find their groove this season, although they can all break a game open.  EDGE: Lightning.  Their best players are their best; the Capitals' have not been.
Defense: The Capitals have morphed from an offensive juggernaut to a team that has one of the best shutdown defenses in the league, as they are currently 5th in the league in goals allowed per game with 2.38, which is down from 2.85 last year.  All of their defensemen have bought into Bruce Boudreau's system and have no defensive liabilities: they have good skating ability and size, and know what they are supposed to do.  The Lightning, however, have few good defensemen and are 23rd in the league with 3.04 goals allowed per game.  Their best defenseman, Victor Hedman, is only 20, has a bright future and can be great, but he is not consistent enough to be considered upper echelon yet.  EDGE: Capitals.  They have the ability to shut down anybody now, while the Lightning have to outscore their opponents on most nights.
Goaltending: The Capitals have three young, great goalies who have all proven that they can win at this level this season, and Varlamov has proven he can play well in the playoffs, too.  The luxury for the Caps here is that if one gets hurt, they still have two very solid goalies for the games that they play.  The Bolts do not have that.  Dwayne Roloson is good and has playoff experience too, but he is old and is liable to fall apart at any time.  Dan Ellis does not inspire confidence behind him, either.  EDGE: Capitals.  Youth and consistency take the cake here.
Special Teams: The Capitals are again the total opposite this season than what they were last year: awesome penalty kill, terrible power play.  After leading the league in PP goals last year, they Capitals are now 25th in the league in that department; and after placing 28th in PP goals allowed last year, they are now 4th on that list.  Their penalty kill has been simply fantastic all year and is their best asset right now; and they recently had a stretch of 27 consecutive kills broken.  The Lightning, though, do not have that contrast: they are in the top 10 in both power play and penalty kill this year, and have players that are specialists on both those units, such as Steven Stamkos.  EDGE: Lightning.  The stats speak for themselves on this one.
Schedule: Both teams have heavy schedules over the next month and a half, particularly in March.  March sees the Capitals play the Hawks, Red Wings, Lightning, Canadiens twice, and Flyers, as well as tough games in between those.  The Lightning see the Hawks, Canadiens, Bruins, Penguins, and Hurricanes three times, but get to face the Senators three times during the month. The Lightning also have 4 more home games than the Caps over the rest of the season.  EDGE: Lightning. No game is a given, for or against, but the Bolts are a team that are going to win most of the games they should, and they have more of those left.
Coaching/X-Factor: The Capitals have done this chase thing before under Bruce Boudreau, albeit three seasons ago, when they made the playoffs on the last day of the season.  The Lightning are full of young players, and only two players remain from the team that won the Cup in '04: Lecavalier and St. Louis.  That's more than the Caps, but all of the key players on the Caps have playoff experience, while few on the Lightning do.  The Lightning are also led by a rookie coach (not to take anything away from Guy Boucher, he's great), and Bruce Boudreau has won the Jack Adams award as the league's top coach in the last three years.  EDGE: Capitals.  They have more playoff games played, they know how to win down the stretch, and they have the better and more experienced coach.
VerdictIt sure looks like this one is going to come down to the wire in the Southeast Division.  Both teams are deserving of the Division title, and at this rate, it really is a toss-up which team will come home with the hardware.  I think both make the playoffs, and I also think that the Capitals come home with the banner because I think their offense will wake up to complement their excellent defense.  But it really could go either way, it is going to be fun to watch down the stretch.


  1. "This season, not only is the Southeast Division in jeopardy, but the Capitals may face an early exit from the playoffs if they draw the Penguins or other very strong team in the first round."
    -I think this is very misguided. There is no other team that I'd rather face in the first round than a hobbled Pittsburgh squad. We know we'd get the best effort from the Caps, and without Malkin, and an injured Crosby, their entire system collapses.

  2. clearly their system does not collapse, as the penguins have managed to win all season without crosby or malkin, or both, in the lineup. somehow. How can you want to face the penguins? that's like wanting to face the steelers or the lakers in the first round. the pens are the standard, as much as I hate it.

  3. They haven't looked impressive in a single win without them. You're on drugs if you think the Pens without Malkin, and a not even close to 100% Crosby is anywhere near the Caps. I want to face the Penguins because they're flat out not a good team right now. Regular season wins against the Isles is not like beating a team like the Caps in a 7 game series. They simply aren't capable of it in their current condition.

  4. I'm just interested as to why you think the Capitals are such a fearsome team, there is no need t get aggressive and insulting. What have they shown you to make you think they can go far? Because I sure haven't seen anything, as depressing as that is.

  5. They don't need to be "fearsome" to beat a team that's as horrible as the Penguins without one of their top 2, nevermind both of em. The "standard" looked truly outstanding tonight. The Pens are far from the standard in the NHL. A couple years of favorable matchups, luck, and essentially completely avoiding injury in the playoffs doesn't make you a dynasty, which you're seeing right now.

  6. You are speaking like I am a penguins fan. I dislike that team more than any team in any sport, ever. But the fact remains that the Penguins have made it deeper into the postseason than the capitals the last 3 years, including two consecutive trips to the final, and one cup. The Penguins have been winning all season without one of their stars in the lineup, in fact, they have only played 2 games all season where malkin, staal, and sid were in the lineup at once, and they still stand 4th in the conference, 6 points ahead of us (albeit with 2 more games played). one game does not a trend make. remember that 7-0 game at MSG? that was worse than the pens game tonight, and you think that game tonight gives you a reason that the penguins are not a top tier team? any team with a beast defense, with the penguins have with our without crosby and malkin, is scary in the playoffs. period.

  7. and PS - anything is possible in the playoffs. did anyone think the habs were capable? the flyers?