The 2022 calendar year has not been kind thus far to the Capitals. As the team continues to struggle, however, the silver-lining throughout the last two months has been that Washington remains secure in its playoff spot. Over the first three months of the season, the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference emerged and began to separate themselves from the bottom eight in the standings. Even at the halfway point of the season, It was hard to see how any of the teams on the outside of the playoff picture looking in would be able to catch any of those teams in the top eight.
With Washington's continued struggles, however, this no longer seems impossible.
The Columbus Blue Jackets beat the New Jersey Devils 4-3 on Tuesday for their 10th win in 14 games. That win pulls them to within eight points of the Caps and the final wild card spot in the east. Columbus also has a game in hand.
Eight points is a fairly significant gap, but that is a gap that will continue to close if both teams keep up their current rate of play.
Since the start of 2022, Washington has played 22 games with a record of 8-12-2 giving them a points percentage of .409. Columbus has gone 13-12-0 in 25 games for a points percentage of .520. The Blue Jackets are significantly hotter of late but let's stick with the larger sample size.
If both teams maintain that current points percentage through the end of the season, Washington will earn 22 points over its last 27 games for 87 total on the season and Columbus will earn 29 points over its final 28 games for 86.
If you look at both teams from Feb. 1, Washington is 4-6-0 with a .400 points percentage and Columbus is 8-3-0 with a .727 points percentage. At that rate, the Caps would earn just 21 points to close out the season while the Blue Jackets would earn 40.
Granted, a .727 points percentage does not seem like a realistic pace for the rest of the season, but .520 sure does. A lot of things have to continue to go right for Columbus such as Patrik Laine continuing his suddenly blistering offensive pace (14 goals, 9 assists in 14 games) and a lot of things have to continue to go wrong for Washington for this to happen, but it's not impossible. Two months is not a slump and this has been two months of below .500 hockey for the Caps. At the very least, their continued struggles open the door for the Blue Jackets to get back into the race.
On the other hand, while it may not feel like it, this also shows that the Caps are still in decent shape to make the playoffs. They could earn a points percentage of .409 the rest of the way and still manage to beat out the Blue Jackets if Columbus does not stay significantly hot through the rest of the season. Even if Washington improves just a little bit over the final stretch of the season, it does not take much to make the math look really tough for the Blue Jackets to actually catch them.
But Columbus is already halfway there.
On Jan. 1, the Caps held a 16 point lead over the Blue Jackets in the standings. Now, on March 2, that gap has narrowed to just eight. With about two months left to go in the season, the Caps need to turn things around or their spot in the playoffs may suddenly be in jeopardy.