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.
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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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