The Capitals oscillation between good games and bad games in recent weeks has many wondering where this team stands with regards to making a deep run in the upcoming playoffs. In a span of two games, the Capitals turned in one of their best efforts (San Jose) and one of their worst (Anaheim). However, February and March will provide ample opportunity for the hockey universe to dial-in expectations for this year’s version of the Washington Capitals.
There are 10 games in February and March that could be considered true “measuring stick” games – contests that will provide a signficant test for the Caps, and tell us a lot about how the team is doing heading into playoff season. Four games in February and six games in March. Four home games and six roadies.
The Capitals are 2-1 so far in “measuring stick” games in the February/March litmus test. They doused the Flames 4-3 back on February 1 at Capital One Arena. The Capitals fell in the next “stick” game on Super Bowl Sunday to the Boston Bruins 1-0 at Capital One Arena. Most recently the Capitals turned in maybe their best effort of the season so far in their impressive 5-1 win over the Sharks in San Jose.
The first time the Capitals and Leafs squared off was back at the start of the season on October 13th. It was the Capitals fifth game of the season, so not much should really be gleaned from the Capitals 4-2 loss to the Leafs at Capital One arena. In addition, both teams were missing key players (Tom Wilson and William Nylander).
The last time the Capitals faced the Leafs was in Toronto on January 23, the last game before the All-Star/Bye-week break. It was also the second game of a back-to-back set for the Caps, while the Leafs entered the tilt well-rested, having two days off prior to the game. The Capitals fell to the Maple Leafs 6-3 at Scotiabank Arena, which was their seventh consecutive loss (0-5-2).
Thursdays tilt will provide the best gauge as both teams will have off the day before (Wednesday). The Capitals will travel from coast to coast on Tuesday while the Leafs visit the red-hot Blues in Saint Louis, so the Capitals will arrive in Toronto before the Maple Leafs. In addition, the Capitals will likely suit-up their most preferred lineup. In the last meeting, Madison Bowey and Jonas Siegenthaler were the Capitals third defensive pair. Now, it’s likely the Stanley Cup duo of Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos (who missed the last game due to injury) will be anchoring the blueline. Thursday night’s tilt will tell us a lot.
March will provide the best litmus test for the defending champions. In addition to three games against the league’s best team, the Tampa. Bay Lightning, the Capitals will do battle with the Islanders, Jets and Penguins. We will definitely have a good feel for how this team is playing heading into this year’s playoffs. We’re finally getting to the good stuff, and it ramps up on Thursday.
By Jon Sorensen