It has been the Bermuda Triangle of the NHL.
Fifteen teams have journeyed to California to face the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks this season. Just four of them have retuned with four or more points.
Tonight in Anaheim the Capitals begin a California trip that can make or break their chances of going to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the seventh straight season, a feat only four other teams in the NHL have accomplished.
The Caps remain in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings with 74 points, two behind the New York Rangers, who hold the final wild card spot, and Columbus Blue Jackets, who hold the third spot in the Metropolitan Division, and one ahead of the Detroit Red Wings.
The Caps and Rangers each have 13 games remaining. The Blue Jackets and Red Wings each have 15 games left.
“We gotta win them all,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said of the three-game set on the LeftCoast. “I know they’re better than us in the standings, but you’ve got have the attitude you’re going to beat them. Toronto had a good trip out there and we just beat them.”
The Maple Leafs became the fourth team to grab four points against the Ducks, Kings and Sharks, going 2-1-0 on their trip. The Caps’ 4-2 win over Toronto marked the Leafs’ first game back from that trip.
Overall, the Ducks [97 points], Kings [82 points] and Sharks [97 points] own three of the NHL’s top eight records. The Caps fell 3-2 to the Ducks at home on Dec. 23 in Bruce Boudreau's first game coaching against them, and lost 2-1 to the Sharks in a shootout on Jan. 14.
“Realistically, if you asked me a couple months ago, I would have said get one win,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said of the Caps’ three-game trip. “Realistically, for us now it’s at least two.
“I think we can afford to lose one. Obviously, we don’t want to. We want to try to upset a couple teams. They’re in good position and maybe they’ll take us a little lightly. Hopefully, they do and we can capitalize on that.”
The Caps are coming off back-to-back wins over the visiting Canucks and Maple Leafs and are 5-4-1 since returning from their Olympic break. Based on the points per game averages of the teams ahead of them, the Caps will need to go at least 8-3-2 in their final 13 games to get into the post-season.
“We’re going to need to play even better than we played [against Toronto],” said Caps goalie Jaroslav Halak, who is 3-2-0 in five straight starts. “One game at a time. That’s got to be our approach for the rest of the season. We have to get these points. We are in the chase, we are looking from the outside in. We have to keep playing good hockey.”
And they’ll need to come out of the Bermuda Triangle with at least four points.
“For us to be the best,” left wing Jason Chimera said, “you've got to beat the best."