Losers? No. Chokers? Perhaps.


(Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

The Washington Capitals, contrary to what some may say, do not have a culture of losing. This organization has made the playoffs six straight seasons despite having four different coaches over that span, including three in the past two seasons.

Season

Coaches

SE Div Finish

Playoffs

2013

Oates

1st

Lost in first round

2012

Boudreau, Hunter

2nd

Lost in second round

2011

Boudreau

1st

Lost in second round

2010

Boudreau

1st

Lost in first round

2009

Boudreau

1st

Lost in second round

2008

Hanlon, Boudreau

1st

Lost in first round

In fact, it is because this team wins so much that it has fostered what I like to call a Culture of Perennial Disappointment: failing to advance past the second round since its dark-horse run in the 1998 Stanley Cup playoffs.

So, we should be able to agree this organization is made up of winners. However, is it also made up of chokers?

You know, calling the Caps “Choking Dogs” used to be funny. But it isn’t any more. Because it has been happening for 12 years. In nine of their past 12 playoffs the Capitals have either frittered away a substantial playoff lead or lost to a team they finished above in the regular season.

That was Tony Kornheiser’s Washington Post column from 1996, after Washington won the first two games against Pittsburgh before dropping the next four, leading to a first-round exit — a trend that plagues this organization with the term “chokers.” But it is a moniker that, sadly, has been earned.

The Capitals have the worst postseason record in games in which the team can win the series with a victory (minimum 10 games played in those situations):

GP

W

L

W%

Dallas Stars

20

14

6

0.700

Montreal Canadiens

107

74

33

0.692

Chicago Blackhawks

51

33

18

0.647

Edmonton Oilers

45

29

16

0.644

New York Rangers

44

27

17

0.614

Detroit Red Wings

90

55

35

0.611

New York Islanders

35

21

14

0.600

Buffalo Sabres

26

15

11

0.577

Philadelphia Flyers

67

38

29

0.567

Los Angeles Kings

23

13

10

0.565

Carolina Hurricanes

16

9

7

0.563

Pittsburgh Penguins

49

27

22

0.551

Toronto Maple Leafs

64

35

29

0.547

Boston Bruins

84

45

39

0.536

New Jersey Devils

47

25

22

0.532

St. Louis Blues

38

20

18

0.526

Colorado Avalanche

37

19

18

0.514

Anaheim Ducks

10

5

5

0.500

Vancouver Canucks

31

15

16

0.484

San Jose Sharks

29

14

15

0.483

Ottawa Senators

19

9

10

0.474

Minnesota North Stars

20

9

11

0.450

Calgary Flames

29

11

18

0.379

Washington Capitals

33

11

22

0.333

(data courtesy of WhoWins)

That dismal record above for Washington’s series-clinching games includes going 8-18 (.308) in the first round alone. Remove the games played filter completely and the Capitals are fifth worst, ahead of Phoenix (2-7), Winnipeg (1-7) and the now-defunct Oakland Seals (0-2) and Hartford Whalers (0-3).

The good news is that you have to be a winner to be labeled a choker, but at some point winners need to be winners, too.

greenberg
Neil Greenberg, when he isn’t watching the games, analyzes advanced statistics in the NHL and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd. Follow him on Twitter: @ngreenberg.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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