The Capitals are going to make the playoffs. They’re almost certainly going to win their division. And, barring a sustained slump, they’re likely to win the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team; one estimate gives them an absurd 98 percent chance.
Meanwhile, at the top of the league, things are going from silly to sillier. pic.twitter.com/szKiHBHJtS
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) February 21, 2016
Which has led to a question: if clinching everything is already close to a foregone conclusion, should the team start resting some of its stars to keep legs and bodies fresh for the playoffs? Here’s Dimitri Filipovic, making the case at Russian Machine:
The current point structure in the regular season generally makes it exceedingly difficult for teams to separate themselves from the pack. By taking care of business in the manner which they have early on, the Capitals have afforded themselves a distinct opportunity to manipulate the schedule in their favor. Come the playoffs when the meters are running on empty, it could very well be the thing that makes the difference between winning and losing.
The inspiration, of course, comes from the NBA, whose season is the same length as the NHL’s, and whose top teams have long rested crucial players down the stretch, and earlier.
“It’s the best thing for our team,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said around the time his team started embracing midseason days off for starters. “Everybody has to make decisions about their schedule. We’ve done this before in hopes we’re making a wiser decision and not a macho decision.”
So is there an opportunity here for the Caps to make a wiser decision instead of a macho decision? Well, not exactly, according to General Manager Brian MacLellan.
“We haven’t really discussed it,” MacLellan said Thursday in a meeting with several local reporters. “Hockey I think is a little different, in that there’s a rhythm to the season.”
The GM then mentioned the team’s recent hiatus, caused by the back-to-back blizzard and all-star break.
“Too many days off; we got out of rhythm,” he said. “And I still think we’re recovering from it. I think it’s dangerous to start taking time off for everybody.”
MacLellan did, however, suggest that players with nagging injuries could get a break, based on Washington’s position in the standings.
“If there’s minor injuries that normally guys would play with, I think [the standings] would change that, especially when we’re adding depth guys,” he said. “I mean, we’re going to have eight defensemen. If there’s situations where [one’s] not 100 percent, well, you know, let’s use our depth here. I mean, that’s part of the idea of having eight defensemen down the stretch.
“We have a tough schedule where we’re playing a lot of games in the number of days; well, more bodies and the less stress you can put on your top four guys the better,” he went on. “It would be more like that than we’re going to completely sit out [a veteran] for two days. Because I think guys need a rhythm. They need to keep playing.”
The Caps are in the middle of a stretch of 20 games in 37 days. They’ve gone 9-3 since the all-star break but have given up the first goal in six straight games. They also have several stalwarts — including Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby — chasing individual accomplishments. They also have an outside chance at setting the league’s mark for points in a season. As you’d expect, MacLellan’s aspirations go beyond the regular season.
“There’s a lot of positives going on, but I mean, we want to win a championship,” he said. “That’s the goal of ownership, that’s the goal of management, that’s the goal of the coaches and the players, to win a championship. I think we’re happy with the year so far. I just think we have to continually hold that as our goal.”