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Are Capitals Playoff Chances Really As Dire As They Seem?

The Washington Capitals are currently sitting outside of playoff position, but are things really as dire as they seem with 15 games left to go?



ARLINGTON, V.A. — It's no secret to the Washington Capitals that they've dug themselves quite a hole. They admit it openly, citing numerous inconsistencies and efforts that have been just "not good enough" over the last few months.

Following a red-hot December where it looked as if the team was back in top form and well on their way to the playoffs down the road, things took a turn for the worse after losing John Carlson to a long-term injury and turning the page to 2023. Washington would have a strong game one night and then take a step back the next. Since Jan. 3, the Capitals are 11-15-2 and have the second-most regulation losses and the fourth-lowest points percentage (.429). As a result, the team is now third-to-last in the Metropolitan Division and is looking from the outside in.

"John went down, and that's when, I think, our inconsistency started," general manager Brian MacLellan noted. "It's hard to replace a guy like him… I do think it had a big effect on the results from the end of December on, contributed to what I would call inconsistencies."

While the team isn't currently in playoff position, are things really as dire as they seem right now?

Washington has a game in hand and currently sits five points out of the second Wild Card spot behind the New York Islanders, who are kicking off a three-game road swing in California starting with a challenging matchup against the high-flying Los Angeles Kings but ending with two relatively easy matchups against the struggling Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks. At the same time, the Capitals' schedule doesn't get any easier, as the team faces the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres back-to-back starting on Tuesday before getting into more key divisional matchups. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Penguins are seven points ahead of Washington with 78 points after a 3-2 overtime win over the New York Rangers on Sunday.

"We still have a chance to make the playoffs… you never know what's going to happen, we just will continue to play," Ovechkin said.

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Beyond the two Wild Card teams, the Capitals also have to compete with other teams in the race. The Florida Panthers pose a major concern, as they are two points ahead at 73 and sit closer to playoff territory. Also, the Ottawa Senators are just one point behind Washington, and the Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres are also still in it and just two points back from D.C. as well. All of these teams have seen their share of struggles but have been racking up points of late and have the firepower to make a run for a spot.

After a convincing 5-1 win over New York on Saturday, Washington knows that replicating that strong all-around play, which saw chemistry across the board, key names shutting things down on defense and Darcy Kuemper at the top of his game, will be vital with 15 more games on the slate. There's also very much still hope and a lot to play for in the room.

"If we put more games like that, more complete games as a team, we might be right there at the end," Oshie acknowledged.

MoneyPuck currently has the Capitals at a 6.7 percent chance to make the playoffs, with Ottawa and Florida having better odds at sneaking into the postseason. However, things have been looking up, with the team picking up wins in four of its last five and Rasmus Sandin proving to be a solid addition. All the while, John Carlson is making progress toward a return as well, which should provide a boost.

Obviously, the games going forward are a must-win, especially showdowns with the Islanders and Penguins later in the month. There is little room for error, but at the same time, Washington also needs the teams they're competing with to lose some key matchups going down the stretch, which features 30 more possible points for the club.

So looking at the situation, the team isn't in the best place right now, and it's not completely a negative if the team doesn't make it given the prospect of a higher draft pick. However, nothing's out of reach, and there's still a lot to play for. Now, it just comes down to consistency and carrying over momentum.

"We're only five points back," Dylan Strome said. "We gotta take care of business and we'll get the job done."

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