It is hard to believe at times, but the 2017-18 NHL regular season has flown by. With 10 games to go, the Washington Capitals have hit the home stretch on the road to the NHL Playoffs. While they have not clinched a playoff berth, they are in a very good spot as the Metropolitan Division race heats up.
The Capitals are hanging on to the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, although they are in a very tight race. Entering Monday, the Capitals sit 2 points ahead of Pittsburgh, and 4 points ahead of Philadelphia. Columbus and New Jersey are still very much alive in the race too.
With the next 10 games coming quickly in the next few weeks, the race is on for the Capitals to continue to do well in the standings. The Capitals have gone 6-4 in their last 10 games, so they have been okay for the most part.
While the Capitals are hanging tough in standings, there are some concerns surrounding the club as they hit the home stretch. What concerns are the Capitals facing as they make a run to the playoffs?
Let’s dive in to what the Capitals biggest concerns are, and what the club can do to address them:
Health is the biggest issue facing any contending team as they make a run into the playoffs. The Capitals are currently banged up a little bit, with recent injuries to Evgeny Kuznetsov and Brooks Orpik.
The good news for the Capitals on the injury front is that Kuznetsov and Orpik will likely be back before the playoffs. Both players have been durable throughout their NHL careers, and that is good news for the Capitals. Both players are currently listed as “day-to-day.”
Trotz said Kuznetsov and Orpik are both doubtful to play tomorrow. Mentioned that Orpik is probably a little “closer,” though he didn’t skate today.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) March 19, 2018
Kuznetsov is an important piece up the middle for the Capitals. In the Capitals team scoring race, he has recorded 71 points, only behind Alex Ovechkin.
While Brooks Orpik does not score a lot of points, his physical presence and bravery to block shots does not go unnoticed. Orpik is one of the Capitals top penalty killing defenseman, so he is very valuable in an area that has struggled for the Capitals this year.
Braden Holtby has hit a cold spell in recent weeks, but Philipp Grubauer has been up to the task in Holtby’s attempt to “reset.”
While the Capitals have two outstanding netminders, the Capitals need to get both going before the postseason begins. Braden Holtby is one of the cornerstones of the franchise and is one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL. When Holtby is at his best, there are not many teams that can beat him. The Capitals will need elite goaltending in the postseason if they want to make a deep run for the Stanley Cup.
FOCUS AND EXECUTION
For some reason, the Capitals have lacked focus in important games this season. Last Sunday’s matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers was a prime example of that.
The Capitals have a few games on their schedule coming up that are winnable. They play Detroit, Montreal, and the New York Rangers twice. These clubs are out of playoff contention, so it is important that the Capitals focus to win these games to gain extra points in the standings. Teams that are playing for pride still work hard, and still give effort.
There are no “freebie” points in the NHL, but there are winnable games. The Capitals must focus in these upcoming winnable games. They need to execute their game plan, and compete in these games. If they do not, they will lose positioning in the standings.
Special teams are very important, especially during this portion in the regular season. The Capitals powerplay has been up in the top 10 for most of the season. While the Capitals powerplay has been good, the penalty kill has not been very good.
The Capitals penalty kill is at 79.7% effectiveness, which is ranked 20th in the NHL. The Capitals have struggled for most of the season in this area, and it is an area that needs to be addressed and cleaned up.
CONSISTENCY IN THE BOTTOM-SIX FORWARD GROUP
The Capitals have had a lot of different faces in their bottom-six forward group this year. Players like Brett Connolly, Andre Burakovsky, and Chandler Stephenson have had lulls in the season, and Barry Trotz has rotated guys in and out of the lineup frequently.
In order for the Capitals to have postseason success, they need consistency from their bottom-six forward group. They need the players in the lineup that can produce on a nightly basis. If the Capitals can get some of these players to consistently step up, that gives them a better balanced attack.
By: George Foussekis