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The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if there was no pandemic and the season was not paused?

The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if there was no pandemic and the season was not paused?

We are looking at some of the biggest “what ifs” for the Capitals for the 2019-20 season.

Today’s what if: What if the COVID-19 pandemic had never hit and the season had not been paused?

The round robin will give the Capitals a chance to jump from No. 3 in the Eastern Conference to No. 1. Had the pandemic not forced the season to be paused, however, Washington would have struggled just to maintain its hold of first place in the Metropolitan Division.

The Caps were struggling mightily heading into the pause and had been for some time. Every team goes through slumps over the course of the season, but the length in which the team struggled and the fact that they just did not seem to be getting better was troubling.

From Dec. 23 to March 12, Washington ranked 21st in the NHL in points percentage with a record of 15-14-3. That’s essentially .500 hockey. From Feb. 1 to March 12, they got worse ranking 27th in points percentage with a 6-8-3 record.

The Philadelphia Flyers, meanwhile, were red hot and erased the Caps’ sizable lead in the division. From Feb. 1 to March 12, while the Caps were 27th in points percentage, Philadelphia was tied for first. They and the Boston Bruins were the hottest teams in the league with a 14-4-0 record.

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By the time the season was paused, the Flyers trailed Washington by a single point in the standings.

Would Philadelphia have been able to maintain that blistering pace through the end of the season? Perhaps not, but considering the Caps had shown no signs that they were improving, it seems almost certain the Flyers would have bumped Washington out of the top spot in the division which would have likely pitted the Caps against their biggest rival in the playoffs.

At the pause, Washington held a four-point lead over the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins. In fourth place was the Carolina Hurricanes who trailed Pittsburgh by five. Most likely, the Caps and Penguins would have held onto their spots setting up the rivalry matchup in the first round.

RELATED: DOES THE ROUND ROBIN HELP OR HURT THE CAPS?

As bad as Washington was playing, the Penguins were almost just as bad. The entered the season pause with three wins in their last 11 games. During Washington’s struggles, one of the few bright spots has been the team’s two wins over the Penguins including a dominant 5-2 win in Pittsburgh on March 7.

I don’t know if Washington would have beaten Pittsburgh in a playoff series -- given how they were playing, the Caps would have been fortunate to beat anyone -- but even if they did, a long playoff run seemed like a long shot given how the team was struggling. Given the circumstances surrounding why the league had to pause the season, no one can say it was a good thing. In the long run, however, it may prove beneficial to Washington’s Stanley Cup hopes which seemed to be floundering in March.

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The season pause gave Braden Holtby a chance to 'fix a few things' in his game

The season pause gave Braden Holtby a chance to 'fix a few things' in his game

No team can make it far in the playoffs without good goaltending. That's what made the news of Ilya Samsonov's injury so tough for the Capitals. Sure, they still have Braden Holtby, but let's face it, it's been a bad season. Does he even still have it in him to lead the team in the postseason? After three round-robin games, the answer is an emphatic yes.

In a round-robin in which there were seemingly few positives for Washington, Holtby was one of them. He was the team's best player in the round-robin and he capped it off with 30 saves on 31 shots against the Boston Bruins on Sunday, the team's lone win.

Holtby looks like a completely different goalie than the one who managed just a .897 save percentage and 3.11 GAA in 48 regular-season games and that's because he is. The pause to the NHL season allowed Holtby time off to reset his game that he would not have in a normal season and he took advantage.

RELATED: CAPS VS. ISLANDERS NOT ONLY 'TROTZ VS. REIRDEN'

"Put a lot of work in the last couple months and had to fix a few things and work on a few things over the break to strengthen up," Holtby said, "And every game we played here you get a little more stamina and more and more comfortable."

It is pretty remarkable that Holtby was able to improve his game as much as he seems to have done considering that for much of that time, he could not even get on the ice. Yet, as the team prepares for the playoffs, goaltending no longer seems to be an issue. The loss of Samsonov means that the team is in trouble should Holtby struggle or get injured, but in terms of the starting netminder, Holtby is once again the guy. While that may have made fans nervous in January, fans can now be comfortable with that considering Holtby is playing his best hockey of the season.

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Caps and Islanders coaches downplay the personal matchup in Stanley Cup playoff series: 'It's not Barry Trotz vs. Todd Reirden'

Caps and Islanders coaches downplay the personal matchup in Stanley Cup playoff series: 'It's not Barry Trotz vs. Todd Reirden'

As the Capitals and New York Islanders prepare to square off in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, all eyes will be on one matchup. It's not about the two goalies or how one defensive pairing matchups up against an offensive line, this matchup is off the ice. The storyline of this series is the men behind the bench, Todd Reirden and his predecessor, Barry Trotz.

Trotz was the head coach in Washington from 2014 to 2018 and led the Caps to the Stanley Cup in 2018. Reirden was on Trotz's staff as an associate coach in charge of the defense. Following the 2018 season, Trotz resigned and was hired as the head coach in New York, taking with him assistant coach Lane Lambert and goalie coach Mitch Korn. Reirden was hired as head coach of the Caps in the wake of Trotz's departure.

"It'll be a great challenge because I know the people over there," Trotz said of the series.

"Obviously we were able to accomplish something amazing together and that's something that you'll never forget as a staff," Reirden said. "That's never going to go away. It's unique now being on opposite benches and it has been."

When a team plays against its former head coach, comparisons between the two coaches are unavoidable. But even if the fans and the media look at this series as a commentary on the two coaches, the two men in question certainly do not.

"It's not Barry Trotz vs. Todd Reirden or any of those type of things," Reirden said. "It's going to be a team effort."

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They also downplayed any sort of advantage knowing each other may give them in the series.

"You've spent some time with a lot of their players, there's a lot of new players," Trotz said. "It just gives me a little insight on some of their tendencies, that's all."

The core in Washington may be the same, but there are a number of new faces on the roster who came after Trotz. The top-six on offense is the same, but players like Carl Hagelin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Richard Panik, Garnet Hathaway and Nic Dowd all came after Trotz. Defensively, the team added Nick Jensen, Radko Gudas and Brenden Dillon.  Jonas Siegenthaler was in the organization, but did not make his NHL debut until the 2018-19 season.

RELATED: CAPS SECURE FIRST ROUND SERIES VS. ISLANDERS AFTER WIN OVER BRUINS

But even if they do not want to admit it, the familiarity between the coaches and players undeniably adds a different dynamic to the series.

The Caps know what kind of a coach Trotz is and how his teams like to play. Likewise, Trotz knows the level of talent on the roster in Washington so he knows the challenge that awaits the Islanders in the first round.

"They've got a lot of star power and they've won a championship," Trotz said. "They're well-equipped in a lot of areas, so the biggest challenge is to play them even and play them hard and they'll do the same because I know a lot about that group."

Trotz also added, "I think it will be a hell of a series."

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