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A few days ago, NoVa Caps took a look at the remaining schedule of the Metropolitan Division’s top three teams (the Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Pittsburgh Penguins) and the quality of their opponents. This article looks at how well each team performed in the last week and the ground they gained in the standings.
On Monday, March 20, 2017, the Capitals were tied for the lead of the Metropolitan Division with the Columbus Blue Jackets with 100 points, but were considered to be in first place, due to the NHL’s rules on tie breakers. The Pittsburgh Penguins trailed both with 98 points. At that juncture, all three teams had played 71 games each. This week, the Capitals played at home and won all three of their games. On Tuesday, March 21, the Caps beat the Calgary Flames 4-2. This was a Flames team who had been playing particularly hot during the month of March and had won seven of their prior eight games, including their last two.
On Thursday March 23, they played the Blue Jackets and beat them 2-1 in a shootout. The Caps had dominated in shots on net, but were only able to get one goal past Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, in both regulation and the overtime period. On Friday, March 25, the Caps played the Arizona Coyotes, who sat in last place in the Pacific Division and were the second-worst team in the NHL overall. For much of the game, the Caps held a 1-0 lead as they dominated Arizona in shots but could only score once. During the third period, the Coyotes tied the game, followed by a three-goal response from the Capitals that solidified a 4-1 win. The Caps ended the week winning all three games they played, earning the maximum number of points (six) for their efforts and now have 106 points. They accomplished this despite running into the proverbial “hot” opposing goalie in Bobrovsky in the Columbus game, and Mike Smith for the first two periods of the Arizona game.
Columbus also played three games this week. In addition to playing the Caps, they played the Toronto Maple Leafs at home on March 22, losing 5-2 and using their backup goalie, obviously saving their red-hot starter for their important matchup with the Caps the next day. They played the Philadelphia Flyers at home on March 25, beating them 1-0 as Bobrovsky continued his season-long heroics, stopping over 30 shots, and having a save percentage north of .970 in his last four games. Columbus ended up earning three out of a possible six points for their efforts and now have 103 points.
Pittsburgh also played three games this week. They played the Buffalo Sabres on the road on March 21, winning 3-1. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby came under fire for using his stick to hit Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt. Two days later on March 23, Pittsburgh lost 2-1 to the Ottawa Senators on the road in a shootout. Once again, Crosby faced even more scrutiny for slashing Senators defenseman Marc Methot, shattering his finger and not getting penalized for the play.
On March 24, the Penguins returned home to PPG Paints Arena, to play the New York Islanders, a team fighting for their playoff lives. The game proved to be a see-saw affair in which each team taking the lead only to lose it. The Islanders had held a 2-1 and 3-2 lead, with the Pens tying the latter with less than two minutes to go in regulation. As was the case in the previous game, the Pens lost this game in a shootout, this time by a score of 4-3. Because of one win and two shootout losses, the Penguins gained four of a possible six points this week.
Overall, the Caps gained three points on the Blue Jackets and two on the Penguins, and lead both those teams by 3 points. They have one more regulation win than Columbus, and three more regulation wins than Pittsburgh.
By Diane Doyle