As far as boldness of statements goes "The Capitals haven't been playing up to their potential recently" ranks somewhere between "The sun will rise in the East tomorrow" and "We need oxygen to live." From Opening Night until January 9th the Capitals were 26-11-4 , since January 9th the Capitals are 18-11-2, which is not a bad record but does represent noticeable drop off in both winning percentage and points per game.
Amidst the frustration, there are two points continually brought up in an effort to stem the onset of panic. One is that other top teams are struggling, which is pretty readily apparent. The other is that the Capitals still seem to "show up" for game against rivals and playoff-caliber opponents and "play down" to weaker teams. We certainly thought it seemed that way, and our curiosity got the better of us and led us to look at and aggregate the team's numbers from the January 9th loss to Columbus and onward. Here they are:
|Playoff Teams||Bubble Teams||Non-playoff Teams|
|Points Per Game||1.63||1.13||1.00|
[Ed. note: Designation of teams as "playoff", "bubble", and "non-playoff" is based on their place in the standings when they played the Capitals. "Playoff" teams are those in the top four of the conference and at least five points ahead of the eighth seed. "Non-playoff" teams are those at least five points out of a playoff spot or in 13th or worst in their conference.]
The overall correlation between opponent playoff position and points per game is pretty significant: the Caps have simply been getting fewer points in games against worse opponents. Now, it would be a mistake to look at these numbers and draw too many authoritative conclusions given the relatively small sample size and the lack of controlling for any other variables. That said, there are a number of metrics - the lower shooting percentage for the Capitals, the higher shooting percentage for opponents, the Caps' lower penalty kill rate - that suggest what we've been thinking is correct, namely that the Capitals simply aren't bringing the same effort against non-playoff teams as they are against teams all but assured to be in the postseason.
Of course, that doesn't mean that we, as fans, can't be frustrated or irritated by it - after all, no one wants to spend fifty dollars on a seat to see a team float through a game. But it does mean that we should think twice before we decide the sky is falling and that another first round exit is inevitable.