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The Washington Capitals, the President’s Trophy, and the Playoffs

11 FEB 2016: The Washington Capitals celebrate after Alex Ovechkin (8) scored during the regular season game between the Washington Capitals and the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by: David Berding/Icon Sportswire)

We’re in the final stretch of regular season games. Some teams are turning up the heat to make a run for the playoffs, like the surging Anaheim Ducks, and some are starting to slow down, like the Los Angeles Kings.

One team, however, has been dominant all season long, and shows no signs of stopping: the Washington Capitals. Per Micah McCurdy, the Capitals are a 99 percent lock to win the President’s Trophy, the award given to the team with the most regular season points at the end of the year. McCurdy’s model has Washington projected to earn around 121 points on the season, which would be the most since 2009-10, when it was also earned by Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals.

But how good are the current Washington Capitals compared to other President’s Trophy winners of the past? And what does it mean for them going into the playoffs?

It’s no secret that regular season success isn’t a guarantee of a strong Stanley Cup run. Here are a few teams who won regular season titles but were less lucky in the playoffs, despite high expectations.

08-09 San Jose 10gm Overall

09-10 Washington 10gm Overall

11-12 Vancouver 10gm Overall

 

The blue line represents 5-on-5 scoring chance differential and the orange line represents 5-on-5 goal differential.

Thes charts all have one thing in common: no matter how good the goal differential was at one point or another, these teams had a lot of fluctuation in their scoring chance differential.

Not only that, but both 2008-09 San Jose and 2011-12 Vancouver were on downward trends at the end of the season heading into the playoffs. Even though the Capitals were putting up ridiculous goal differentials for a large part of the 2009-10 season, they had several parts where their play (scoring chances) were hovering around average, which generally means they were definitely capitalizing on some good luck.

A quick peek at the numbers reveals that Washington had the 2nd highest 5-on-5 save percentage that season (0.929), and led the league in 5-on-5 shooting percentage at 10.3 percent, giving them a PDO of 103.1. PDO, generally known as a measure of “puck luck”, hovers around 100, and any number over 101 is unusual, over 103 is very, very unusual.

But not all President’s Trophy winners disappointed. A few recent ones, such as Detroit and Chicago, went on to win the whole enchilada.

07-08 Detroit 10gm Overall

12-13 Chicago 10gm Overall

Obviously, Chicago’s chart has far fewer games as that was the lockout-shortened season, but you can still get a sense for their play. Both the Blackhawks and the Red Wings were very consistent in scoring chance differential all season long, regardless of what happened to their goal differential.

If the regular season is supposed to cement your habits before the playoffs, then the cliché “practice like you want to play” is very applicable to both of these clubs.

Contrast that to the two recent President’s Trophy winners who made it all the way to the Final, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion.

10-11 Vancouver 10gm Overall

14-15 NY Rangers 10gm Overall

Unlike the teams that flamed out early, both Vancouver and New York were decidedly average in scoring chance differential, lacking those runs of really good play. The Canucks did make a push at the end of the season, which probably over-inflated their reputation going into the playoffs. The Rangers, on the other hand, were solely buoyed by Henrik Lundqvist at the end of the year, as if he could drag them to a Stanley Cup by will alone.

Which brings us back to today’s Washington Capitals.

2.24 Rolling Avg - Overall - WSH

While their Win-Loss Record looks much like that of the 2012-13 Blackhawks, the Capitals’ scoring chance differential is concerning. It spends most of the time in the “average” range, and even dipping “below average” for some weeks.

Obviously, goaltender Braden Holtby has had a major effect on Washington’s success – the Capitals’ 5-on-5 save percentage so far this year is 0.932. They also have a league-leading shooting percentage of 9.1 percent, giving them a PDO of 102.3.

Sound familiar?

The Capitals are on an uptick right now, and if they can bring some consistency to their game for these next 24 contests, they will be even scarier. Anything can happen in the playoffs, but as Detroit and Chicago have shown, it’s best to be prepared going in.

 

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