History and the Washington Capitals

Capitals Canadiens

In case you haven’t heard, the Washington Capitals are having a really good season. Like, scary good. Like, “there must be a numerical error in the standings on NHL.com” levels of dominance. When looking at their team on paper, it stands to reason why they’re in a league of their own—yet their coach is still in the conversation for the Jack Adams Award. Alex Ovechkin is now considered a two-way forward without having impacted his ability to light the lamp. Braden Holtby has put everything together to solidify himself as an elite goaltender. In short, everything is clicking.

Their record is currently 43-10-4, reaching their double-digit loss total just a few nights ago in their 53rd game of the season. In fact, they’ve yet to lose back-to-back games in regulation. With 90 points in the standings, they are far and away the top team in the league. The second-best team in the league, the Chicago Blackhawks, are nine points behind despite playing four more games.

So, we get it—they’re a phenomenal hockey team. When looking at history though, where do they stack up against the all time great teams? In thirty years, will we tell our children about the Washington Capitals team in 2015-2016? If so, how much longer can we expect this run?

The most dominant regular season campaign in modern NHL history, points wise, was the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens, who topped the NHL standings with 132 points and 60 wins. They outscored their opponents 387 to 171 and didn’t lose two games in a row for the entire season (the closest they came was following up a tie with a loss). In the playoffs, they steamrolled to a Stanley Cup Championship—only losing two games out of fourteen.

At 43 wins and 90 points right now, the Capitals would have to make up serious ground to reach the likes of the Canadiens’ historical season. From a scoring standpoint, the Capitals are well behind, outscoring opponents only 191-131. Keep in mind, though, it’s a very different era and game than the 1976-77 season.

When looking at their place in the standings, and where they can wind up in terms of total points and wins, things start to get a bit more interesting. Their winning percentage is 79 percent, which puts them at winning roughly 19 of their final 25 games. To ensure we’re not too bullish, let’s say four of those are in overtime or a shootout. That’s 34 more points in the standings and a total of 62 wins when all is said and done. While this would be a very strong pace of play, it would put them ahead of Montreal’s 60 wins and tie them with the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most all-time. As for points, the Capitals would land at 124 for the season. Only two teams have reached 120 points since 1997.

All in all, they won’t quite reach the heights of the Canadiens’ season when it comes to total points. However, the fact that 62 wins is within their reach gives us plenty of reason to be excited. And, 124 points would be enough to cement themselves as a top team in the modern era. For what it’s worth, I’d be shocked if they don’t bring home the Stanley Cup this year, too.

With the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks lending their names to the conversation of dynasty teams in recent years (five collective championships since 2009) are the Capitals poised to join that conversation? Not until they win, obviously, but their team is at the right age for them to inch closer to that territory. Evgeny Kuznetsov (57 points in 2015-16), Nicklas Backstrom (53 points), Marcus Johansson (34 points), T.J. Oshie (33 points), and Braden Holtby (.926 SV percent) are all under 29 years old, and Ovechkin still has his entire 30s to go.

It’s a bit much to leap to that for now, but this historic season doesn’t just put the Capitals on the cusp of their first cup, but perhaps on the cusp of stringing together some phenomenal seasons. I don’t anticipate the fun for Washington fans to end anytime soon, and the numbers show that this season could be worthy of storytelling for years to come.

  • John Smith

    The Stanley Cup is the only thing that matters now. Their can be only one.

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