Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
There are only 10 games and 22 days left until the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin, so it’s time to start looking at the potential opponents the Capitals could face in the first round. The Capitals hold first place in the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins, with each having played 72 games, and four ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers, who the Capitals have a game in hand on. Here is a look at the most likely opponents the Capitals could draw in Round 1:
Columbus Blue Jackets: After slumping through most of February, Columbus has turned it on with a seven-game winning streak. They hold the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and if the playoffs began today, Washington would face Columbus in round one. Columbus has had trouble scoring this season, ranking 24th in the NHL with 200 goals this season, and own just one scorer with at least 20 goals and 50 points (Artemi Panarin: 21 goals and 63 points). Washington won the season series against Columbus, going 3-1-0 against them this season, and has won six of their last seven and is 10-2-2 in their previous 14 games against them. Though, the last meeting was a 5-1 blowout loss to the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on February 26. Despite the Capitals’ success against Columbus, anything can happen in the playoffs and nothing is guaranteed.
The Capitals and Blue Jackets each have ten games remaining.
Record: Capitals: 41-24-7 (7th in the NHL) Blue Jackets: 39-28-5 (17th in the NHL)
Goals Per Game: Capitals: 3.08 (10th in the NHL) Blue Jackets: 2.69 (25th in the NHL)
Goals Against Per Game: Capitals: 2.96 (18th in the NHL) Blue Jackets: 2.71 (8th in the NHL)
Power Play: Capitals: 22.5% (5th in the NHL) Blue Jackets: 15.6% (30th in the NHL)
Penalty Kill: Capitals: 79.7% (20th in the NHL) Blue Jackets: 77.6% (23rd in the NHL)
New Jersey Devils: After a red-hot start where they were competing for first in the division with the Caps, the Devils have come back down to earth. They currently sit in the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and have a five-point cushion on the Florida Panthers, who occupy the third wild card. Though, Florida owns three games in hand on New Jersey. The Capitals have gone 2-0-1 and have played two of their strongest games of the season against the Devils. The two teams will meet one more time to play the season-finale for each team at Capital One Arena on April 7. New Jersey has gone 5-5-0 in their last 10 games but have the 13th leading point scorer in the NHL in Taylor Hall. Hall has 31 goals and 77 points in 67 games and recently went 26 consecutive games with a point, tying the longest point streak in NHL history by an American-born player.
The Capitals and Devils each have ten games remaining.
Record: Capitals: 41-24-7 (7th in the NHL) Devils: 37-27-8 (18th in the NHL)
Goals Per Game: Capitals: 3.08 (10th in the NHL) Devils: 2.94 (15th in the NHL)
Goals Against Per Game: Capitals: 2.96 (18th in the NHL) Devils: 2.93 (17th in the NHL)
Power Play: Capitals: 22.5% (5th in the NHL) Devils: 20.5% (16th in the NHL)
Penalty Kill: Capitals: 79.7% (20th in the NHL) Devils: 82.5% (8th in the NHL)
Florida Panthers: After entering the All-Star break 10 points out of a playoff spot, the Panthers have taken advantage of some home cooking to get back into the playoff hunt. Right now, they are five points behind New Jersey in the race for the second wildcard spot, but they have three games in hand on the Devils. They are on a roll, going 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. If they make the postseason, they will almost certainly draw the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning but that does not mean they will entirely avoid a date with the Capitals in the first round because of the three games in hand they own on the Blue Jackets, who are six points ahead of them. This could be a dangerous series for the Capitals, who have gone 1-2-0 against Florida this season. They have three players with at least 60 points: Aleksander Barkov (25 goals, 70 points), Vincent Trocheck (28 goals, 66 points), Jonathan Huberdeau (23 goals, 63 points).
The Capitals have 10 games remaining while the Panthers have 13 left.
Record: Capitals: 41-24-7 (7th in the NHL) Panthers: 35-27-7 (20th in the NHL)
Goals Per Game: Capitals: 3.08 (10th in the NHL) Panthers: 3.00 (12th in the NHL)
Goals Against/Game: Capitals: 2.96 (18th in the NHL) Panthers: 3.09 (22nd in the NHL)
Power Play: Capitals: 22.5% (5th in the NHL) Panthers: 15.6% (30th in the NHL)
Penalty Kill: Capitals: 79.7% (20th in the NHL) Panthers: 77.6% (23rd in the NHL)
Pittsburgh Penguins: After a slow start to the year, the Penguins are looking like the Penguins. They occupy the second spot in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the Capitals for the top spot. They went through a hot streak following their slow start but have dropped to an ordinary 5-4-1 record in their last 10 games. Penguins’ center Evgeni Malkin is tied for second in the NHL with 89 points and is third with 40 goals. Other than Malkin, they have two other players in the top 15 leading scorers. Winger Phil Kessel is 10th in the league with 79 points and is one of 16 players with 50 assists this season. Captain Sidney Crosby’s 77 points are tied for 13th in the NHL with Taylor Hall and Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen. The Penguins have taken two of the three meetings with the Capitals this season (2-1-0) and there’s one more meeting between the two teams at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on April 1. This matchup would probably be the worst case scenario for the Capitals since the Penguins eliminated them from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the second round the past two years. They will probably meet again in the second round but you never know…if the Flyers can continue their hot run to win the division, it could be Caps-Pens in Round 1. Will the third time be a charm?
The Capitals and Penguins each have 10 games left.
Record: Capitals: 41-24-7 (7th in the NHL) Penguins: 41-26-5 (10th in the NHL)
Goals Per Game: Capitals: 3.08 (10th in the NHL) Penguins: 3.26 (6th in the NHL)
Goals Against/Game: Capitals: 2.96 (18th in the NHL) Penguins: 3.00 (19th in the NHL)
Power Play: Capitals: 22.5% (5th in the NHL) Penguins: 25.8% (1st in the NHL)
Penalty Kill: Capitals: 79.7% (20th in the NHL) Penguins: 80.3% (16th in the NHL)
Philadelphia Flyers: It has been quite the roller coaster for the Flyers. After dropping 10 straight contests (0-5-5) in November, they got a point in 12 straight games (10-0-2) in February. After dropping seven out of eight games earlier this month, they have now won two straight. The Flyers are third in the Metropolitan Division, two behind the Penguins for second place and two in front of Columbus for third. They have three of the top 29 scorers in the NHL. After tallying 14 goals and 58 points in 82 games last season, captain Claude Giroux’s 47 assists this season ranks fourth in the league while 83 points rank fifth. Winger Jakub Voracek is 14th in the NHL with 75 points through 71 games and is one assist (59 assists) behind Winnipeg Jets’ winger Blake Wheeler for the league lead in assists. Center Sean Couturier, who ranks 29th in the NHL with 65 points, leads the Flyers with 29 goals and a +27 rating (which ranks seventh in the NHL). The Capitals have not played well against the Flyers this season, going 1-3-0 against them, including a 6-3 Flyers’ win at Wells Fargo Center yesterday where the Capitals did not play very well. The Flyers may have had success against the Capitals this season but the Flyers’ inconsistency will likely plague them in the playoffs, and the postseason is a different animal compared to the regular season. Winning the season series doesn’t mean that they will beat the Capitals in a playoff series. After losing three of four games to the New York Rangers in the 2010-11 season, the Capitals beat the Rangers in five games in the first round of the playoffs. The Capitals also beat the Flyers in the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games. With that said, the Capitals need to be much better than they were in the regular season against Philadelphia to beat them in a playoff series if they draw them in the first or second round.
The Capitals own one game in hand on the Flyers, who have nine games remaining.
Record: Capitals: 41-24-7 (7th in the NHL) Flyers: 37-25-11 (13th in the NHL)
Goals Per Game: Capitals: 3.08 (10th in the NHL) Flyers: 2.96 (14th in the NHL)
Goals Against Per Game: Capitals: 2.96 (18th in the NHL) Flyers: 2.86 (14th in the NHL)
Power Play: Capitals: 22.5% (5th in the NHL) Flyers: 19.8% (18th in the NHL)
Penalty Kill: Capitals: 79.7% (20th in the NHL) Flyers: 75.6% (27th in the NHL)
Eastern Conference Playoff Picture (as of March 17, 2018)
Eastern Conference Playoff Race (Games Ending 3/17) pic.twitter.com/BP5om121Tu
— Damian Echevarrieta (@Ech28) March 18, 2018
By Harrison Brown