This has me concerned. Some will ask "why?" Well let's look at how the division would have stacked out this season.
- Penguins 72 Points (36 - 12 - 0)
- Capitals 57 Points ( 27 - 18 - 3)
- Rangers 56 Points (26 - 18 - 4)
- Islanders 55 Points (24 - 17 - 7)
- Blue Jackets 55 Points (24 - 17 - 7)
- Flyers 49 Points (23 - 22 - 3)
- Devils 48 Points (19 - 19 - 10)
- Hurricanes 42 Points (19 - 25 - 4)
The Islanders had the tie breaker with 20 non shootout wins while the Blue Jackets had 19.
But when you add the other division:
- Canadiens 63 Points (29 - 14 - 5)
- Bruins 62 Points (28 - 14 - 6)
- Maple Leafs 57 Points (26 - 17 - 5)
- Red Wings 56 Points (24 - 16 - 8)
- Senators 56 Points (25 - 17 - 6)
Under the new system, the 4th playoff spot goes to the best remaining team in the conference, not the automatic 4th place team in that division. This means the Senators would be in the playoffs in place of the Islanders. (The Red Wings had more non shootout wins than the Senators)
If you look at the numbers, 2 points separated the playoffs and missing the playoffs.
Yes, 2 points separate this:
Think about it, 1 more loss and the Capitals missed the playoffs.
I know some people are saying not to worry since the Capitals won the division 5 out of the last 6 years. That is true, but that was the Southeast Division.
The Capitals are joining the teams from the Atlantic Division and Columbus.
Basically things are not about to get easier.
What I hope for is that the tougher competition will elevate the Capitals game and make them a tougher team when the playoffs come around.
Lets take a look at the teams in the new division.
Pittsburgh Penguins: As a Caps fan, you hate this team, but you have to give the devil their due. Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, the list goes on. They have the talent to win and they always seem to make the trades to get better. And if you are like me, the Penguins roster make your stomach get all knotted before every Caps - Pens games.
New York Rangers: As long as John Tortorella is coaching them and Henrik Lundqvist, they will be tough. They are a psychical team that love to play mind games. Add a GM that makes moves that are high risk, high reward, you never know what you will get.
New York Islanders: This team is going to a pain to deal with. Coach Jack Capuano has the team flying all over the ice. Players like John Tavares and Michael Grabner make the Islandrs exciting to watch. One big question is at goal with Evgeni Nabokov. He is now 37 but he seems to have found a new spring in his step this season. Can he keep it going?
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers had a rough season but injuries and a goalie whose mind might have been some place else in the universe played a role. They still have the talent with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell. Another thing that makes me worry about the Flyers is their GM. Paul Holmgrem is going to make a move. If they can stay healthy, they will be in the mix.
New Jersey Devils: They also had a rough season, but can you really count out a team with Martin Brodeur? Add Ilya Kovalchuk and a Devils team that is healthy, they won't be an easy victory.
Carolina Hurricanes: Simply put, last season was a disaster. I put a good part of the blame on the injury to Goalie Cam Ward. He is a great goalie who can steal games when he is playing. And if you look at them on paper, they have some offensive punch. Eric and Jordan Staal, Alexander Semin, and Jeff Skinner. Again if they are healthy and focused, they will be a hand full to deal with.
Columbus Blue Jackets: They have been the punching bag the last few years but the second half of the season, they were exciting to watch (even Marian Gaborik seem to get caught up in the excitment). They missed the playoffs by 1 point. Not bad for a team who's leading scorer was Mark Letestu with 13 goals (Vinny Prospal lead the team with 30 points) And it looks like they finally have the goalie they needed in Sergei Bobrovsky. This team is young but they seem to know how to play as a team already. They are going to be a wild card to deal with.
Our beloved Washington Capitals: I really believe they have the talent with Ovechkin, Green, and Backstrom. I also believe in Oates and I think Holty and Neuvirth make a very good goalie tandem, but I worry about the teams mental toughness. Like I said, I hope the tougher competition will toughen them out mentally.
Bottom line, making the playoffs won't be a guaranteed thing. I hope though that creates some exciting scenarios for a playoff push.