Be prepared: I’m going to pound this narrative through the Earth’s crust over the next two weeks as long as it looks like the Flyers will play the Capitals in the playoffs.
From the Washington Post, March 24, A Caps Fan’s Guide to Passing the Time Before the Playoffs Start:
The Capitals have been fighting complacency since the “dog days of February”and sure sounded like a miserable bunch this week for a team that just won the division.
“I think we’re all kind of sick of the way we’ve played at times the last couple of months,” Braden Holtby said. “You can tell it’s starting to turn, just everyone’s realizing we have kind of hit that bottom.”
“It’s been hard to manufacture urgency,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “You can’t.”
“Honestly, I think we’ve been trying to fight through it for a while already,” Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen told ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun after the team manufactured some competitiveness on a team curling trip in Ottawa on Monday. “And we’ve struggled with it at times, finding motivation, to really have that second and third kind of effort that you need to win; the high-compete puck battles. Guys are working hard and playing the right way for the most part, we’re trying to do the right things, but in games you really, really, really need to win, you find that second and third effort all over the ice. That kind of hasn’t been there at times in the last few weeks. We’ve been fighting that. That’s going to be the biggest thing — how do we get our battle level up to playoff level in the last 11 games? Or at least close to playoff level so Game 1 isn’t such a shock.”
From March 23, Capitals May Be Unhappiest Division Winner in Recent Memory:
There was no champagne and not many smiles Tuesday night. Rarely has a winning locker room seemed so frustrated with its performance. For the Capitals, it wasn’t just this game, but months of games and a realization that they aren’t as dominant as they were earlier in the season — and that they’re running out of time to return to their best before the playoffs start.
And from as far back as February 23, As Capitals Play Out the Regular Season, Complacency is the Opponent:
If the Capitals beat the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, they will have matched their regular season win total from last year with 23 games until an assured postseason begins. As Washington faces desperate teams still fighting for their playoff lives, this part of the season is its biggest challenge, fighting off a natural complacency while getting the opponents’ best effort.
Anecdotally, here’s their margin of victory bar chart from HockeyReference.com— note the relative absence of big green lines of late:
They were killing people early in the season. Now? Not so much.
And a quick check of their schedule on ESPN.com shows that in no month prior to March did they have more than four losses (including shootouts). March? Six:
In fact, in their last 13 games, they’ve only won three in regulation– against the Predators, Senators and Blue Jackets. The supposed best, most dominant team in hockey only has three regulation wins since March 2. The Flyers? Seven:
Ironically, I don’t even think the Flyers are going to need seven games to dispose of the Capitals in the first round. Five, maybe six, should do it.