Anticipating the release of a 48 game schedule later today, a Capitals fan might be curious to see how their team has fared during the first 48 games of previous seasons. Granted the team has changed a lot over the course the three seasons we chose, but three seemed like a nice round number.
We see here that previously, through the first 48 games played, the Capitals have played good hockey, and have been particularly stellar on home ice, while leaving something to be desired when away from the Verizon Center. They’ve accumulated a good +/-, and won game 48 each time. But coming off an extended absence from hockey in the district, which saw some players in Russia, others in Sweden, others in the AHL, a head coaching change, the intangibles are numerous.
48 games of hockey played from October to January is not the same as 48 games played from late January to April. In 2013, the first puckdrop is going to mark the march to the playoffs, and the game will immediately adapt a more fevered pace than the early November matchups that never seem like a big deal at the time. Let’s look below at how the Capitals ended each of the above seasons.
Game 48, during each of the above seasons, came within two or three days of January 20th, so the below analysis is, at least, chronologically relevant.
This team went 24-3-7 from January 20thish and on, though it was such a juggernaut, and therefore an outlier, that I’m almost loathe to include it for comparison.
This team’s 22-9-3 record after the 48 game marker was good enough to launch the Capitals from 5th in the conference, to a lofty “Eastern Conference Regular Season Championship”— the dubious honor now commemorated in the Verizon Center rafters.
Last year’s team went 16-18-0 after the 48 game mark, and it wasn’t pretty, sinking them two spots in the conference, not winning the division for the first time in what seems like forever, and very nearly missing the playoffs altogether.
The 2012-2013 is going to be an odd juxtaposition of beginning of the year hockey, and playoff-stretch hockey. The simple W-L data above suggests that the Capitals have been relatively even-keeled, if one presumes that the end of last year was simply a slippery stretch on a steep slope. But the Capitals, along with the rest of the league, face a unique set of challenges: a new coach who only as a week of training camp and no preseason to get his team geared up for a playoff push; a core of players that’s been scattered across the world for the past few months; and a whole slew of emotions that came with the lengthy lockout that need to be, at least temporarily, swept under the rug in the name of focus.
If the Caps can maintain a consistency they’ve proven capable of, there’s no reason they shouldn’t find the postseason again. But in a 48 game season, with the stakes immediately heightened, there’s no telling what could happen.
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