By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 3, 2009
With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season and a second straight Southeast Division only one point away, the Washington Capitals are not only looking to lock down the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, they're aiming to rewrite a number of the franchise's most cherished records.
Three marks are within the Capitals' grasp with five games remaining: most points in a season, most victories and most wins on home ice. The 1985-86 team holds all three records, having earned 107 points with a 50-23-7 record that included 30 wins at Capital Centre.
Wednesday's 5-3 win over the New York Islanders put the Capitals in a tie for the third in team history with 101 points. They can move into second place with a win over the desperate Buffalo Sabres tonight at Verizon Center and could finish with as many as 111 points if they win out.
"We could get 107, 108, 109 points this year, which is remarkable from where we were a couple of years ago," General Manager George McPhee said yesterday, referring to the back-to-back 70-point seasons in 2005-06 and 2006-07. "We're all proud of it. We think we can have a lot of seasons like this."
Hockey historians would be quick to point out that Mike Gartner's 1985-86 team was not able to gain an additional point via the shootout, which was introduced after the 2004-05 lockout, and it played only 80 regular season games rather than 82. Four of the Capitals' victories this season have come in the shootout. Coach Bruce Boudreau, however, dismissed the notion that breaking the record for points would be diminished because of the format changes.
"You're going to have detractors anywhere you go when it comes to records," Boudreau said. "Everyone is going to want to put asterisks and things beside people's names. But in today's era, everything has changed. Everything has gotten bigger, faster, stronger, quicker. There was no salary cap in the '80s, either. There could have been a huge discrepancy. Everything evens out in the long run."
Asked what the records would mean to him and his players, Boudreau cracked a smile and said: "I'm probably the most superstitious coach ever, so I don't know if I want to talk about that until it occurs. But I'm well aware of the situation."
The Capitals have 47 victories, meaning they must win four of their remaining contests to establish a new high. All of Washington's remaining opponents -- the Sabres, Thrashers (twice), Lightning and Panthers -- are not in playoff position.
In an effort to keep his players focused and engaged down the stretch against teams that are lagging significantly behind in the standings, Boudreau has routinely used the pursuit of history as a source of motivation when addressing the team before games.
"He mentioned that to get 100 points hasn't been done in [nine ] years," said defenseman Mike Green, who needs one more power-play tally to reach 19, which would move him into a tie with Sheldon Souray for the NHL record by a defenseman, a mark Souray set as a member of the Montreal Canadiens in 2006-07. "When your coach puts that kind of pressure on you as a player, you step up to the challenge. It's a good thing."
With 28 wins at home and only two games remaining, the best the Capitals can do is tie the home victory record.
Capitals Notes: With Carolina's 4-2 home win over the New York Rangers last night, the Capitals still need one victory or one Hurricanes loss to clinch the division title. . . . Enforcer Donald Brashear practiced with the team again yesterday but is not expected to return before Sunday. . . . Rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov could get the start tonight against the Sabres. . . . The Capitals signed 2005 first-round draft pick Joe Finley yesterday. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound defenseman missed 16 games with North Dakota this season because of a concussion.