Lead Item: The Caps are at just about the 3/4 post of the season, and with 21 games left to play, they are still in play for the division title and one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference. As of last week’s ticker, the Caps were looking up at Tampa to the tune of six points; a week later, they are only chasing one. Sure a big reason is that the local squad squeezed in many games last week while the ‘Ning had more days off and thus still have 23 games left of their own. Technicalities. The bigger factor for the Caps is going to be where they can get the points they need in the last 21, and if they want to catch Tampa, they’ll need to do two things: not leave points on the ice after regulation and win on the road.
The Caps passed a pretty good test during a winding road set around the country last week, a five-game trip over eight days through Phoenix, Anaheim, San Jose, Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Any of those games along would be challenging – the Coyotes lead their division, the Caps haven’t won in San Jose since 1993, there is this small rivalry with Pittsburgh these days (see the awesome hit above from Monday’s game) and the two other squads are definitely in the postseason hunt – and now add them back-to-back and all in just one week’s time. If you would have said that the Capitals would be coming back to the Phone Booth and Friday’s Rangers game with 6 out of 10 points, most of us would have said that you’re crazy.
The Caps will need to be road warriors one more time this season, with another long trip in March. While this one stays on the east coast, it has its share of ups and downs. Bookended by two games with Montreal, the Caps will visit Eastern Conference leaders Philly, the current second seed in the West in Hockeytown, and rounding it out with tilts against two of the worst in the East, New Jersey and Ottawa. Half the points in those six games seems like a pretty manageable goal (a split with Montreal, perhaps, and then two each against the Devils and Senators), but if the Caps want to push hard into the postseason, they need to be looking at knocking off those bigger games in Detroit and Philadelphia.
Rest of the ticker after the jump.
The Ticker: I thought when they fixed the uniforms, there weren’t going to be any more “Natinals” problems. I was wrong…local quote of the week comes from Mr. Irrelevant discussing new Nationals 1b, Adam LaRoche, “Amazingly, first base for the Nats managed to get even more redneck after Adam Dunn left the team.”…Sure, Blake Griffin jumped over the hood of a Kia, which was kind of cool, but was it that impressive? A pretty hot topic around the slam dunk contest asks, “Did JaVale McGee get robbed?” Seriously, since there are about 5,000 Bleacher Report articles on this message point, you know someone has to care. I’m not linking to any of them, but you can decide for yourself by watching Griffin’s and McGee’s dunks in unbelievably, unnecessarily slow motion…your best friend for NCAA tournament prediction should be The Bracket Project, which synthesizes some 60 different prognostications for the tournament. The matrix pins Georgetown as a 3-seed, but the better regional story may be George Mason’s season and the prediction of a 7-seed for the Patriots. The Terps are pretty far on the outside looking in, and Maryland will likely need to sweep the last four (which includes a game in North Carolina) and pick up a win or two in the ACC tournament for a shot at the dance.
Closing Number: 21 – Last year’s Virgina Tech offense finished 21st in the country in points scored, 23rd in rushing yards and 72nd in passing yards. That apparently wasn’t good enough for the folks down in Blacksburg, and the Hokies demoted OC Bryan Stinespring while giving the job to QB Coach Mike O’Cain.