The Washington Capitals play the New York Islanders on Thursday night, beginning what will be the Caps’ most defining stretch of the season. Washington will play the three other current East Division playoff teams during six of the next 10 games. The other four games include two matchups against the New York Rangers, who have bedeviled the Capitals this season and are trying to get into the loffs.
“I feel like we’re down the road of the season where everybody understands what we’re doing now,” Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette said this week. “There shouldn’t be any excuses about not understanding [the system] or how we move about our business. I think this stretch — and the teams we have to play during this stretch — are games we’ll have to play the right way. By doing that, you prepare yourself for the playoffs.”
To be blunt, these final ten games will tell us if this year’s Capitals squad is a division-winner or a scrape-by-your-pants-into-the-playoffs type club.
4/22 at NYI
4/24 at NYI
4/27 vs NYI
4/29 vs PIT
5/01 vs PIT
5/03 at NYR
5/05 at NYR
5/07 vs PHI
5/08 vs PHI
5/11 vs BOS
The Capitals begin this difficult stretch with three straight games against Barry Trotz’s New York Islanders – the same team that eliminated them in the postseason last year in five games. The first two games are at the Coliseum and the final game is at Capital One Arena, where the Caps will host fans at home for the first time. The two teams are a tie for first place in the East Division. They have the exact same record (29-13-4) and the same amount of standings points (62).
In the five head-to-head games WSH and NYI have played, the Capitals hold a slight edge, winning three of the five games and having a plus-one goal differential (16-15). The Isles will also take the ice against Washington with two veteran forwards they acquired at the trade deadline, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac.
“They added a couple pieces (and have) a little bit off a different look,” Laviolette said. “But I don’t think that’ll change their style, their philosophy, or how they’re wanting to play.”
Once the Capitals and Isles complete their season series, the Capitals will then move onto their biggest rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who currently sit one point out of first place (61). Both PIT-WSH games are at Capital One Arena. The Capitals have lost four of their six games against the Penguins (2-1-3) this season, but have barely been outscored by the Pens overall, 21-20.
The Capitals will then play two games at Madison Square Garden against the fifth-place New York Rangers, who will be fighting to get into the playoffs. The Rangers have dominated the Capitals this season defeating the Capitals in four of their six matchups in regulation. The Rangers have outscored Washington in their six games 21-13.
Finally, the Capitals will close the season with two home games against the Flyers (beat them in 5 of 6 games) — likely their easiest two games of this stretch — and a home date against the talented Boston Bruins. The Bruins added Taylor Hall at the deadline and beat Washington in their last game 6-3. The Bruins own a plus-two goal differential in their seven previous matchups (25-23).
“There’s a certain style and a certain way that you have to play those teams in order to find success,” Laviolette said, predicting this stretch of games will prepare Washington for the postseason. “When we’ve played that way we’ve won and when we haven’t, we’ve gotten away from it. [The Islanders and Penguins are] are good defensively. They’re competitive in the battles. It comes down to puck decisions and compete level. Specialty teams seem to always factor into things. I think they are good opponents for us to face at this part of the season.”
While this will determine the Capitals’ seeding in the playoffs, Laviolette does not believe it will offer much fortune telling for the postseason.
“Given the choice, most organizations and most coaches and most teams would probably want to go 8-1-1 in the last 10 games and enter the playoffs and have that confidence going in,” Laviolette said. “I don’t think it guarantees anything. I think once you get into the playoffs, you gotta do your work, you gotta be good at doing your work, and if you do it well enough, you can move on to the second round.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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