Jay LePrete/Associated Press
A week ago, NoVa Caps looked at the Tale of the Tape for the Metropolitan Division’s top three teams: the Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Columbus Blue Jackets. Quite a few things have changed since then, and in this piece, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle takes a look at the performance of each of the teams in the last week. On the morning of Sunday, March 26, 2017, the Washington Capitals led the Metropolitan Division with 106 points, while the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Pittsburgh Penguins were tied for second place in points with 103 points each. At that juncture, all three teams had played 74 games.
This week, the Capitals were on a road trip that involved playing games in multiple time zones (Central, Mountain, and then back to the Eastern). On Tuesday, March 28, the Caps beat the Minnesota Wild in an overtime thriller, 5-4, which featured a hat trick by Alex Ovechkin. Prior to that game, Minnesota sat in second place in the Central Division, but were currently mired in a losing stretch, having won only one game in their previous nine games, and falling out of first place. In this game, the Caps had led 4-2 at one point during the third period only to give up two late goals to Minnesota to tie the game at four apiece. Fortunately, the Caps won the game on a goal from T.J. Oshie and earned two points for their effort.
They traveled from Minnesota – in the Central Time Zone – to Denver, Colorado in the Mountain Time Zone to play the Colorado Avalanche the very next day, March 29. This game would be played at 8:00 P.M. at the Pepsi Center, which meant Caps fans would have to stay up late to watch it, as the game started at 10:00 p.m. on the East Coast. During the 2016-2017 season, the Avalanche have had the worst record in the NHL. The Caps found themselves up 4-1 just past the hallway point of the game, but soon after the Caps scored their fourth goal, the Avalanche countered with their second. The Capitals ended up winning the game 5-3, sealing the deal with an empty-net goal, but not before the Avalanche came within one goal of tying. The Capitals gained the requisite two points for the win, but appeared rather tired for the latter part of the contest, showing the after effects of dealing with a pair of back-to-back contests, coupled with the time changes.
On Friday, March 31, the Capitals played the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes have also had a rough season during 2016-2017, with the worst record of any other team in the NHL, except for the Avalanche. However, on that day, Arizona was the better team. They reeled off three goals during the first period and were up 3-0. The Caps struck back with two goals during the second period to pull within one goal, but the Coyotes answered back with two of their own. The final score was 6-3. Braden Holtby started in goal, but after giving up three goals during the first period, he was replaced by Philipp Grubauer. He returned for the second period and remained in net for the rest of the game.
After their trip to Arizona they flew back to the Eastern Time Zone to play the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the three teams battling with them for the division lead, on Sunday, April 2. The game remained scoreless through the first period, but during the second period the Caps struck with three goals to run away with a 3-0 lead. The Blue Jackets struck back with two goals during the third period to pull within one goal and seemed to have chance after chance against the Capitals especially late in the game. Fortunately for the Capitals, Holtby made key saves during the last two minutes, and the Caps prevailed 3-2.
Overall, the Caps earned six points out of a possible eight despite their wins coming after extremely stressful games which featured one blown lead and two nearly blown leads.
Columbus also played four games this week. Their first game of the week was against the Buffalo Sabres at home on Tuesday, March 28. They beat them 3-1. After that, they traveled to Carolina to play the Hurricanes on Thursday, March 30. While the Blue Jackets scored the first goal in that contest, the ‘Canes tied the game with less than five minutes to go in regulation and won it on a goal in overtime. They traveled to Chicago after their defeat in Buffalo, and played the high-flying Chicago Blackhawks the following day and lost 3-1. Chicago scored the first goal and Columbus managed to tie it, but Chicago scored the last two goals and moved closer to clinching the top playoff seed in the Western Conference. Columbus closed out the week by losing to the Caps. With one win, two regulation losses, and one overtime loss the Blue Jackets earned three points and now have 106 points.
Pittsburgh also played four games this week. On the evening of Sunday, March 26, they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers at home, 6-2. While Pittsburgh scored the first goal during the first period, Philadelphia scored four unanswered goals and were up 4-1 midway through the third period. While Pittsburgh answered back with a goal of their own, Philadelphia scored two more late goals. The Penguins continued their losing ways on Wednesday, March 29, in a nationally-televised “Rivalry Night” contest against the Chicago Blackhawks at home. Chicago racked up a massive 4-0 lead during the first period. Both teams traded goals during the third period as the final score ended up at 5-1. On Friday, March 31, the Penguins traveled to New York City where they played the New York Rangers. Pittsburgh got off to a 3-1 start during the third period, but allowed the Rangers to tie it up late. Despite the Rangers having numerous chances in overtime, the Penguins prevailed in the shootout.
After that, the Penguins traveled to Carolina where they played the Hurricanes on Sunday, April 2. In that game the Penguins scored first. The ‘Canes tied it up late in the first, but Pittsburgh added two more goals and prevailed 3-1. With one regulation win, one win in a shootout, and two losses the Penguins earned four points and now have 107. They leapfrogged the Blue Jackets for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
Overall, the Caps gained three points on the Blue Jackets, two on the Penguins, and now lead the Penguins by five points and the Blue Jackets by six. They have three more Regulation/Overtime wins (ROW) than Columbus and four more ROW than Pittsburgh. Below is a chart comparing the number of points gained by each team.
By Diane Doyle