The Caps and the Road Ahead

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 22: Washington Capitals head coach Dale Hunter directs his team against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on January 22, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Three games and three points on the road. This is an acceptable pace. Play 500 on the road and play well at home from here on out will help us dramatically in the standings. - Ted Leonsis

That the Washington Capitals have struggled mightily on the road in 2011-12 is by no means a revelation. But has it been so difficult for the Caps to win away from Verizon Center that banking half of the possible points on a three-game trip is "acceptable" for a team that just a season ago had a .598 points percentage on enemy ice?

In a word, absolutely.

At the moment, the Caps have a tenuous hold on the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 53 points with 35 games remaining in the season. The conventional wisdom is that it'll take 93 points or so to make the playoffs in the East, meaning that if the Caps play to a .500 points percentage over their 18 remaining road games, they'll need just 22 points in their 17 home games to hit that 93-point plateau (which should be attainable for a team that's gone 17-6-1 at home so far this season).

The reality, of course, is that a .500 points percentage on the road the rest of the way would be a huge improvement for the Caps, who are currently 8-13-2 on the road for a .391 points percentage. (And if they kept that pace up, they'd add another 14 or so points, which would obviously up what they'll need on home ice to make the post-season.)

Compounding the problem is the road schedule itself. To begin with, the competition is good. How good? If we total the home wins, losses and overtime/shootout losses for the Caps road opponents (double- and triple-counting the teams the Caps play twice and three times, respectively), those teams have a combined .638 home points percentage. (Eliminate the double- and triple-counting and that drops to .631). Further, the schedule includes back-to-backs (four front-ends, one back-end and two full back-to-backs on the road), a four-game trip that includes both Florida teams, and a brutal mid-March Islanders-to-Jets-to-Hawks-to-Red Wings-to-Flyers roadie that may very well make or break the team's playoff hopes.

If the Caps take half of the points available to them on the road over the remainder of the regular season, they'll certainly have helped themselves dramatically in the standings. And given what they've done away from home so far this season and the schedule ahead, it would be more than acceptable. It'd be great.

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