Through 46 games of Barry Trotz's tenure as head coach of the Washington Capitals, his team is 24-13-9 and, as of now, in a playoff-bound position in the standings. But despite the fact that they're on better than a 101-point pace, there's one type of game which they've had a particularly difficult time winning - the second game of back-to-backs. There are any number of reasons why that might be the case, but their 1-6-1 record in those games speaks for itself... but Brooks Laich speaks for it as well, noting, "Our back-to-backs have been subpar, very subpar, our record is dismal in fact, in back-to-backs."
This season there's been a lot of attention played to how teams perform on the second night of back-to-back game situations. The data compiled demonstrates that most teams struggle in these scenarios, especially so when their opponent is rested (i.e., the opponent did not play the night before) - through January 19, rested teams had secured 69.8% of the points available to them when facing tired teams. Conversely, tired teams have only managed to gain 44.9% of the available points when playing rested teams. Further, historically, rested teams have an average Corsi percentage of 51.8% while tired teams have an average Corsi percentage of 48.2%. It's very clearly a disadvantage to play on the second night in a row facing a team that is rested.
The schedule-makers were not evenhanded when they doled out these burdens (sorry, Columbus; not sorry Buffalo, who's looking to drop all the points they can). Regardless, teams play the schedule they've been given and need to find a way to scrape together as many points as possible.
With that in mind, let's take a look at how the Caps have fared in their back-to-back situations, and what they've got to look forward to in the second half of the season. First, the League-wide results (with the heavy lifting on the data courtesy Gus Katsaros):
The Caps haven't been particularly advantaged or disadvantaged relative to the rest of the League. They have one less "rested" and one less "tired" game on the schedule than League-average, so there's no complaining with the schedule-makers (although catching the Rangers and then the Flyers while tired is a little frustrating given how tight the Division is).
Any complaint the Caps have should be focused on themselves. They've failed to perform at a league-average level in their tired situations, and the impact is significant. Let's take a look at the details of the Caps' back-to-back schedule:
So far, of the eight games the Caps have played back-to-back, six were against rested teams, and all six games against rested teams have been on the road (okay, maybe there's a small gripe with the schedule-makers). These games are tough situations for everyone, but the Caps have definitely left points on the table.
Looking back to the League-wide table, the Caps are woefully below the League-average 44.9% of available points in tired games, with just one point gained. One. That's just not going to get it done. If the Caps had played at a League-average level in tired games, they'd have roughly four more points on the season (4.39, to be exact... and they're currently six points behind the Metropolitan Division-leading Islanders). When we look at the specific games, there was an extra point to be had against the Flyers (recall that the Caps blew a third-period lead in that one), and at least a point to be had against the Stars (that one was tied in the third). The Rangers game was close, but Braden Holtby wasn't as sharp as he normally has been, so maybe they squeak a point there. (It's worth noting that Holtby let in uncharacteristic goals in the third period of the games against the Rangers and Flyers, and he had played the night before in both of those situations; maybe the guy could use a bit more rest in those situations.) Point being, another four points doesn't seem like it's out of the realm of possibility based on the actual results.
And then there's the flip side of the coin - when the Caps face opponents that played the night before:
Losing to a tired Sabres team while rested and at home... that one hurts. But the Caps, at 3-1-1 as a rested team, are right at the League-average in points percentage. (Edit: Apparently the Sabres weren't tired in that game, still a painful loss.)
The good news is that the Caps only have three more tired games against rested teams (and at least this time they have one tired game at home), and they have four rested games against tired teams, all at home in a two-week span in March (they'll have to make hay when the sun shines there). They should have a scheduling advantage coming out of the All-Star break, but if they can't improve their performance in back-to-back games from the first half of the season (and they'll get two chances to do so this week), then it won't make much of a difference.