The Washington Capitals are in the final week of the regular season. With 3 games remaining, the Capitals are looking to get hot right before the postseason begins. The Capitals should be battle tested going into the playoffs, as the last 3 opponents on their schedule are playoff teams. Their first test will be huge, as they are set to square off against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Capitals are 2-2 against their Pennsylvania rivals this year. Their last meeting was in Pittsburgh back on March 20th, and the Penguins rolled over the Capitals 6-2.
SIZING UP THE OPPONENT: PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
The Penguins are the hottest team in the NHL right now. The Penguins have won 7 in a row, and have won 13 out of their last 14 games.
The Penguins have scored 5 or more goals in each of their last 5 games. The offensive firepower is clicking for the Penguins, and they are scoring a ton of goals minus Evgeni Malkin. Malkin has not played since March 11, and he is out with an upper-body injury. The Penguins have also been without star netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, who has missed the last 3 games with a concussion.
While the Penguins are a little banged up, they have secured a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. They are still competing for home ice in the first round in the playoffs, and their first round opponent is likely going to be the New York Rangers.
WAVE TO THE GOOD GUYS: WASHINGTON CAPITALS
The Capitals are not as hot as the Penguins are right now, but they are steady. On Tuesday night, the NY Islanders defeated the Capitals 4-3 in overtime, in a game where the Capitals blew a 2-goal lead in the 3rd period.
Braden Holtby took blame for the loss, but the Capitals did not play with a lot of energy, especially in the 2nd period. The Islanders outhit the Capitals 32-22 in the game, and they played with a little bit more urgency in the game. The Capitals were hoping to get the win for Holtby, who would have tied Martin Brodeur’s single season win record if the Capitals defeated the Islanders. There is still hope for Holtby, but he will have to get 2 more wins in the next 3 games in order to break Brodeur’s record.
The Capitals top line came ready to play against the Islanders. Ovechkin tallied 2 goals, and T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson both registered 3 points. Evgeny Kuznetsov registered 9 shots in the game, but did not register any points.
Dmitry Orlov continues to struggle for the Capitals. Barry Trotz benched him late in regulation, and he finished the Islanders game with a -2 rating. It will be interesting to see if Barry Trotz decides to rotate other players into the lineup in the remaining games. Will Trotz decide to play Pittsburgh native Mike Weber, who played against the Penguins last time? Will Trotz decide to play Taylor Chorney, who is former Penguins property?
PLAYERS TO WATCH
T.J. OSHIE: Oshie is scoring nicely right now. He has 5 goals and 7 points in his last 8 games. He has registered 26 goals and 50 points in 77 games this season. The Capitals have hit a little bit of a rough patch in terms of scoring, but Oshie has been a bright spot during this scoring drought.
MATTHEW MURRAY: Since Marc-Andre Fleury’s concussion, Murray has come in and performed well for the Penguins in net. Murray, 21, has registered an 8-2-1 record, 1.98 goals against average, and .930 save percentage. He was drafted in the 3rd round of the NHL Draft back in 2012.
It is highly unlikely that the Penguins and Capitals will see each other in the 1st round of the NHL Playoffs. But there is a good possibility that they could see each other after that.
The Penguins and Capitals are both evenly matched. Both clubs have star netminders. Both clubs have superstar generational talents with Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Each club is well coached, and they both have passionate fanbases.
A lot of unexpected things can happen in the playoffs. But if these two teams do meet in the next few weeks, the intensity level in the games will be high. There will be great skating, lots of physicality, and plenty of nastiness in the playoff series.
Thursday, April 7, 2016 – CSN-DC, ROOT, SN360 – 7:00 PM ET
By: George Foussekis