Every game between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins tends to have some sort of underlying drama that makes tuning in for the rivalry matchup more interesting. Over the past 15 years, when the two teams have squared off against one another, it has normally been a showcase of two of the league’s best squads fighting for superiority atop the standings.
Not so much this season.
The two veteran-laden rosters are clinging to the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Their game on Thursday could have major implications on who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t at the end of the year.
The two teams have 56 standings points apiece. The Pens won the first matchup of the season 4-1 in early November and hold three games in hand on a scuffling Caps team that will come into play losers of six of their last 10.
The Pens are no stranger to scuffling this season themselves as they went through a seven-game winless streak before that win against the Caps. They have gone 20-9-6 since then to get back into playoff contention.
Micah Blake McCurdy’s HockeyViz model is now projecting that the Capitals will finish fifth in the Metropolitan Division overall but securely in the second Wild Card spot. It has the Pens almost three points clear of the Caps in the first Wild Card spot.
Point projections over the past fortnight. pic.twitter.com/Zml47lNBvb
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) January 26, 2023
MoneyPuck has the Capitals with a 75 percent chance of making the postseason as of today.
Playoff odds as of Tuesday https://t.co/2nMPy5I9mv pic.twitter.com/fVvqsEz4WM
— MoneyPuck.com (@MoneyPuckdotcom) January 24, 2023
But that doesn’t mean the Capitals can relax though. With a loss to the Pens, they will be two points behind Pittsburgh and the Pens will still have three games in hand. Another game on Thursday night that they must pay attention to will be played between the Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets.
That high-flying Sabres team, which features budding star Tage Thompson, has won four games in a row and now sits just three points behind the Caps. They also have three games in hand.
Finishing in the second wild card spot will also almost certainly mean a first-round playoff matchup with the Boston Bruins. With a 38-5-4 record, the Bruins are on pace to break the NHL’s single-season record with 66 wins. The point difference between Boston and the NHL’s current second-place team, the Carolina Hurricanes, is the same as the point difference between the Hurricanes and the 14th-placed Capitals (12 points).
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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