STATISTICAL ANALYSIS | As we head into All-Star weekend, it’s still unclear who will likely win the Southeast Division. A quick look at the standings shows it is likely a three-horse race between the Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets.
Winning the Southeast is significant in that whoever finishes second is most likely out of the playoff picture; there is not one team in the division that has a positive goal-scoring differential. Southleast, indeed.
I see three obstacles that will stand in the Capitals’ way: injuries, remaining road schedule and unsustainable goaltending.
Injuries. The loss of Nicklas Backstrom is significant, and the scoring chance differential since he has not been available to play has gotten worse with each passing game. Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perreault and Brooks Laich can fill in short term, but if an injury befalls any one of those backups the team could be in serious trouble.
Remaining road schedule. The Capitals’ special-teams play goes from a level on par with the top five teams to among the league's worst on the road, which is one of the reasons why they are just 8-13-2 away from Verizon Center. Looking at the remaining road schedules for the three Southeast contenders, the Capitals have by far the stiffest competition ahead. The win percentage of their upcoming road opponents is .518 and they have an average goal differential of a plus-5.
The most brutal stretch has to be March 18-22, where Washington plays Chicago and Detroit in back-to-back games on the road, which is then followed up a few days later against the Flyers in Philadelphia.
Neither Florida nor Winnipeg is anywhere close to having to overcome that level of competition on the road.
Unsustainable goaltending. This team has been outshot and outchanced almost every game since Hunter took over (only 48 percent of shots at net have gone in its favor during even strength with the score tied), but the goaltending (.939 even-strength save percentage) has helped it to pull out the wins. It is unlikely that the Capitals get Vezina-caliber goaltending the rest of the way, so if they don't figure out how to tilt the ice in their favor they most likely will be on the outside looking in come April.
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