If you looked at things from a pure numbers perspective – throwing out contextual bits like the Detroit Red Wings’ serious injury issues – it would seem like the Washington Capitals were doomed to lose tonight. Just factor the two teams diverging records coming into the contest:
Red Wings: 28-4-2 at Joe Louis Arena
Capitals: 13-20-3 on the road; no wins in Detroit since 2003 (according to Stephen Whyno)
Combine those factors with the general air of negativity surrounding the Caps for most of the season and you have a layup for the Wings, right?
Nope. Alex Ovechkin (two goals) and the Capitals had to bite their nails a bit after a 4-1 lead turned to 4-3 in the third period but Jason Chimera iced it with an empty-netter at 5-3 – preserving the DC bunch’s place in eighth in the East in the process.
First things first, the Capitals are pretty far removed from the Southeast Division title race. Florida has three more standings points and two games in hand on the Capitals. Washington’s lone trump card is that they currently hold tie-breaker advantages.
Honestly, Washington’s primary focus is keeping that eighth playoff spot right now – Ottawa’s four-point lead for seventh place makes that a longer term concern. Here’s what the race for the eighth spot looks like now:
8. Washington: 80 points, nine games left (37 wins, 35 in regulation/OT)
9. Buffalo (won tonight): 78 points, nine games left (34 wins, 27 in regulation/OT)
10. Winnipeg (lost last night): 76 points, 10 games left (34 wins, 30 in regulation/OT)
The Capitals obviously have some things going in their favor, including a soon-to-be easier schedule after a tough road game coming up against the Philadelphia Flyers. It’s still far from a sure thing, but Washington can lick its chops imagining the fun that could come from being an uneasy first round opponent for whoever emerges with the first seed.
The Red Wings have now lost five games in a row (0-4-1) and are a disturbing 1-6-1 in their last eight games. Considering the way they’re plummeting and the Chicago Blackhawks are surging, it’s quite possible that Detroit might slip to the sixth seed – only four points separate the two teams right now.
Then again, some might say that facing the Pacific Division winner is a preferable fate to facing the rugged Nashville Predators – fresh with Alexander Radulov – so maybe it’s not all bad news for the Winged Wheel.