Photo: Sports Illustrated
According to PowerRankingsGuru.com, the Washington Capitals will have the fourth easiest schedule in NHL this season but that does not mean their schedule is a piece of cake. In fact, there are some stretches that look absolutely daunting and those parts can make or break the team’s quest for playoff contention. In this post, NoVa Caps looks at those stretches that will be critical in whether the Capitals can repeat as Stanley Cup Champions.
The First Five Games
If you thought the Capitals would get an easy schedule out of the gate because they are the Stanley Cup Champions, guess again.
Washington will open the season with consecutive sets of back-to-backs. They start against the Boston Bruins, who finished second in the East with 112 points in 2017-18, one behind Tampa Bay, at home. Following the Boston game, the team will play their second game in less than 24 hours at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh against the arch-rival Penguins, who finished second in the Metropolitan Division with 100 points in 2017-18. Pittsburgh will want to jump on the Capitals early since they will be hosting their home opener against the team who eliminated them from the playoffs and the defending champs.
Adding to their challenges, the Capitals then have six days off before playing their next game, and they usually struggle after coming off of a lengthy break. The Capitals play the Vegas Golden Knights after the break. If you think the Penguins will come out flying against Capitals after they ended their chances of a three-peat last season, the Golden Knights will likely come out even harder after losing to the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final, the first wall they hit in their magical inaugural season. The Capitals will then fly to New Jersey for their second game in a 23-hour span against the Devils, who finished eighth in the Eastern Conference last season, for a pivotal division clash and a potential first round preview.
The Capitals will then return home to host the Toronto Maple Leafs two nights later. The Maple Leafs tied the Penguins for third in the league with a 3.29 goals per game average and added superstar center John Tavares to add to an already impressive collection of forwards. While the Capitals have strong center depth with Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, and Lars Eller, the Leafs will counter with Tavares, Auston Matthews, and Nazem Kadri, creating matchup nightmares for the Capitals. All of three Leafs centers scored 34 goals or more during the 2017-18 season despite the fact that Matthews missed 20 games.
After the first five games are done, the Capitals’ next eight games are against non-playoff teams from last season.
Five-Game Homestand in November
After returning home from a four-game Canadian road swing, the Capitals begin a five-game homestand with matchups against the Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Penguins, Blue Jackets, and the Arizona Coyotes.
This is a great opportunity to grab as many points as possible early in the season as three of the teams finished no-higher than 10th place in the Western Conference and the other two are against Metropolitan Division rivals whom the Capitals will be fighting for playoff positioning.
After the homestand, the Capitals will head out west for a four-game road trip in Winnipeg, Minnesota, and Colorado before coming back east to face Montreal and close out the road trip, including a back-to-back at the Wild and Jets. The three teams from the west all finished with at least 27 home wins last season, which means the Capitals will need to grab as many wins as they can before heading out west.
The homestand will be the second-longest the Capitals will have in 2018-19.
After a tough three-game road trip against the Golden Knights, Coyotes, and Blue Jackets in December, the Capitals will play seven of their next eight games around the Christmas break against teams that finished 10th or lower in the Eastern Conference.
The Capitals will play the Carolina Hurricanes, Ottawa Senators, and Buffalo Sabres twice each in a span of 15 days. In addition, the Capitals will host the Penguins in a key Metropolitan Division clash and the Detroit Red Wings, another bottom dweller in the Eastern Conference.
The Capitals need to take advantage of this stretch to finish in a good spot going into the four-day Christmas Break. If the Capitals win at least six of these games, they should be in good shape to make a run at a Metropolitan Division championship.
12-Game Stretch in February
After the Capitals end their bye-week, they get right back at it on a season-long six-game homestand against the Calgary Flames, Bruins, Vancouver Canucks, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, and Los Angeles Kings from February 1-11. Of the six games they play over their season-long homestand, only three are against playoff teams and only one (Bruins) finished higher than a wild card spot.
Following their season-long homestand, they hit the road for a season-long six-game road trip, including the California gauntlet, where the Capitals have won just two of their last 12 games in regulation. Five of the six teams they face on the road trip made the playoffs this past season. They will play the Columbus Blue Jackets, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Kings, Maple Leafs, and Sabres on the road trip.
The 12-game span may be the biggest stretch of the season for the Capitals to test how they play against likely playoff teams. The stretch could determine whether or not the Capitals finish as Metropolitan Division Champions for the fourth consecutive season.
When the playoff push begins, the Capitals will certainly have their work cut out for them. The team will play six of their first seven games and 10 out of their 15 games in the month against Metropolitan Division rivals. The one game that will not be against a Metropolitan Division opponent will be against the Winnipeg Jets, who finished with the second-most points (114) in the NHL in 2017-18 and went to the Western Conference Final.
Of the first six games against division rivals, only one of which will be at home (against the New Jersey Devils) and seven of the 10 games against Metropolitan opponents will be on the road.
The Capitals will play the Philadelphia Flyers, who finished sixth in the Eastern Conference with 98 points in 2017-18, and the Tampa Bay Lightning, who finished first in the East with 113 points, three times each. Two of the three games against each opponent will be on the road. The Lightning, who play the Capitals three games in a span of eight games, tied the Toronto Maple Leafs for first in the east with 29 home wins last season and led the NHL with an average of 3.54 goals per game.
The Capitals will play 10 consecutive games against playoff teams from the past season in March with half of them on the road (all from the East).
The 15 games they will play during the month of March is the most they will play in any month during the season.
By Harrison Brown