Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Going crazy with the NHL standings
Last week the Washington Capitals ascended to the top of the NHL standings and still sit there as of today with 46 points, cementing themselves as a Stanley Cup contender this year. It was a huge accomplishment for D.C. sports, which have been taking a pounding of late. Though we aren't at Cleveland levels in terms of title droughts, it's been a long time since a professional team not named D.C. United won a league championship (the answer is obviously 1991, when the Skins won the Super Bowl).
In fact, over at Dan Steinberg's D.C. Sports Bog, he concluded it's definitely the first time in the 21st century a Washington area team has led the league standings this late in the season, and probably the first time since the Skins started 11-0 in 1991. Good for the Caps, too. I've been covering them for about a year and a half now, I like most of the guys on the team, and they certainly have the talent to be considered one of the best teams around. But, at the same time, I watch almost every game and personally, I don't think the Caps have played all that well — definitely not at the league-best level the standings seem to indicate — this season.
So let's take a closer look at those 46 points and how and who they've come against. First off, the Capitals official record is 20-7-6, the six being a point given for reaching overtime, but not winning. Let's start there. It boggles my mind sometimes that the NHL awards a point to a team that reaches overtime, but then loses before the shootout. It's a loss, how is it that a team deserves to be rewarded? I understand the point for reaching the shootout because the game isn't decided over the course of the game. It's more luck than skill.
So if you look at the Capitals' six overtime decisions that didn't result in wins, either courtesy of a shootout or an overtime goal ... just two have come via shootout loss (against Toronto on Nov. 21 and against New Jersey on Oct. 12). The other four points are all overtime losses, defeats in which the Caps allowed a goal during the five-minute, four-on-four extra session. So taking away the kooky Canadian-based logic that a team should somehow be rewarded for giving up demoralizing overtime goals, to me the Capitals actual record is 20-11-2. Still good, but not the league's best.
Now take a look at who the 20 wins and 11 losses have come against, the picture painted isn't necessarily one of a team destined for greatness. When facing teams that would make the NHL playoffs if they started today, Washington is 7-5-2 this year. Against all others, 13-2-5 ... BUT four of those five overtime losses came in actual overtime, not a shootout. And out of those 13 wins, against admittedly mediocre teams, two came in overtime and two others came in a shootout.
To me, that paints a picture of a team playing not playing great hockey, but merely feasting on the dregs of the league. The 7-5-2 record the Caps have had against the league's elite seems more in line with the level the team has been playing at so far this year. Maybe I'm being overly pessimistic, just a douchey media member covering the team looking for ways to poke holes in their success. I guess if you're the glass half full type, you could say the Caps haven't even played that well and they're still on top of the standings. I'm curious to hear what others think...
Posted by Mark at 9:29 AM