January 1st was a big day for Caps fans. Not only was...
Mommy, Can I Go to the Playoffs? (A Primer, of sorts)
At all levels of the Capitals system, the end of the regular season looms large. Along with the will they/won’t they anxieties facing all three teams (none have clinched a playoff berth as of tonight), it’s signing season for the college crowd. Add to that the ongoing domino effect rippling through the organization.
It’s easy to feel a bit lost and a lot confused – especially when it comes to personnel and playoff slots. To help out, Caps Outsider has put together a bit of a primer when it comes to your next few weeks as a fan of the Caps organization.
NHL (The Important One, Kind-of)
As we all know, Washington has five games left before the fans find out whether they can legitimately cry into their beer or if they should prepare for another round of ulcers. Fun times. Even better when one factors in last night’s encouraging performance (OK, so maybe encouraging isn’t quite the right term for a 5-1 loss to the team you’re vying for 8th place with).
With Nicklas Backstrom cleared-but-not-yet-playing, Tomas Vokoun nursing a tender groin, and a rotating collection of healthy scratches and short-term injuries, the team has been making a solid effort at introducing their fans to a few members of the Hershey Bears (namely Dmitry Orlov on D, Braden Holtby in net, Keith Aucoin floating between center & wing, and occasionally Cody Eakin to add some color to the mix).
Your “Fun & Relevant Call-Up Fact of the Night” – Aucoin was one of the AHLers who were called up as insurance when the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006. Add another name to the list of experienced veterans in the Caps locker room, useful or otherwise.
AHL (The Hometown Heroes)
Hershey has a great record in the post-season, including back-to-back Calder Cup wins in 2009 and 2010. When it comes to championship experience, they’ve got it. Their captain, Boyd Kane, has won the cup with two different teams (the other being the Philadelphia – now Adirondack – Phantoms in 2005). Nine members of the team’s 2012 Clear Day Roster were with the Bears for the win in 2010, as were the current coaching staff (Mark French & Troy Mann). While it’s no guarantee of future performance, but the framework in Hershey is definitely solid.
Following tonight’s 5-2 win over Binghamton, the Bears are in 4th place in the conference and have eight games remaining on the schedule. They need two points to clinch; odds are that they’ll snag them this coming weekend. If not, they’ve got a whole heap of wiggle room (although hanging onto 4th, and the associated home-ice advantage, would be nice).
With Cody Eakin’s call-up this morning, the number of players on Hershey’s Clear Day Roster currently stretching their wings with the Caps increases to 4. In the meantime, the Bears are filling out the ranks with some recent college signees – forwards T.J. Syner & David Civitarese, and goalie Matt Tendler serving as back up to Dany Sabourin (currently at 8 consecutive starts, going 7-0-0-1 over that stretch). New Caps free-agent signee Cameron Schilling (D) should be joining the Bears later this week, as well.
OK, I’m going to say this, whether it’s sacrilege or not. The Bears would definitely see some benefits if the Caps make an early exit this spring. Binghamton saw similar perks last year when the Ottawa Senators, their parent club, missed the playoffs. They managed to ride it all the way to the championships, eventually bringing the cup home. Not saying Hershey would mimic that performance, and the same holds true for all AHL clubs, but I’m just mentioning it to get it out there so we all can move on.
ECHL (Cue the Nailbiting, Take 2)
The South Carolina Stingrays are the closest to the post-season, on a strictly calendar-related basis. There are only two games remaining in their regular season, both against the Greenville Road Warriors – first on the road Friday, and then the last at home on Saturday.
Due to their recent losing streak, the Stingrays currently sit at 7th in ECHL East with 77 points. For those not versed in the minors, the ECHL playoffs consist of 8 teams from the East and 7 from the West. The ‘Rays are currently tied with the Reading Royals and the Chicago Express for 7th, holding onto the berth by virtue of tiebreakers. If they can pull out the last two wins, they’ll be heading to the playoffs and facing the #2 seed.
The personnel news in Charleston has been good and bad by turns over the last week. Philipp Grubauer, recently named to the ECHL All-Rookie team for 2012, is having season-ending wrist surgery next week (correction – Grubauer’s surgery was last Thursday, per C. Binas of hockeyweb.de). This is the latest in a sequence of goalie-related woes for the Stingrays, but there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Daren Machesney appeared on a scoresheet for the first time since his January groin injury, marking what is hopefully the end of their downhill slide in net. Billy Sauer remains healthy, so that makes two regularly rostered goalies for the Stingrays again.
There’s been one other piece of unfortunate news out of SC, and that’s the loss of their leading scorer, Trent Campbell as of Friday. He’s been suspended indefinitely, due to an incident involving the theft of a taxi while the team was in Florida.
In his place, the Stingrays have regained Maxime Lacroix & Daniel Koger from the Bears, and signed Damon Kipp (D) & Andrew Cherniwchan (Forward, from Caps 2011 D-Camp) to ATO’s following the completion of their college seasons. They’ve been signing new players rather consistently over the last month, filling gaps caused primarily by injuries.