Photo: New York Post
The Washington Capitals and New York Islanders will enter Sunday with each having 14 games to play before the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin, including the final game of the regular season against each other at Capital One Arena on April 6. The Islanders enter Saturday’s home game against the Philadelphia Flyers two points behind the Capitals with one game in hand for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
Should the Islanders defeat the Flyers tonight, both them and the Capitals will have 40-21-7 records and 36 regulation-overtime wins. The Islanders would own the advantage since their +33 goal-differential is better than the Capitals’ goal differential of +23. The Capitals are 2-1-0 against the Islanders this season, though they have only outscored them by a combined total of 7-4 in those games.
Of the Capitals’ final 14 games, half are at home but the seven games they play away from home will come on lengthy Eastern Conference road-trips, the first of which being four games and the second being three, against teams who are fighting for playoff position, let alone their playoff lives. They also have to play the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, who became the first team in the NHL to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season on Friday night, three times in a span of two weeks. Two of those games will be in Tampa Bay. The Lightning are 28-6-2 at Amalie Arena this season.
After the four-game Eastern Conference road trip, the Capitals have a four-game homestand before heading out on a three-game Southeast road-trip. They play their final two games before the Stanley Cup Playoffs on home ice.
Seven of the 10 different opponents the Capitals face the remainder of the regular season are in a playoff position as of March 9, though five of those are in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals are 26-10-4 against the Eastern Conference this season, though they have yet to play the Lightning this year. They also play seven games against Metropolitan Division opponents. The Capitals are 14-5-2 against the Metro this season.
The Capitals’ opponents who are in the Western Conference are the Winnipeg Jets, who lead the Central Division with 84 points and have two games in hand on the second-place Nashville Predators, who are just a point behind them, and the Minnesota Wild, who are 6-2-2 in their past 10 but are fighting for their playoff lives as they are just three points up on the Arizona Coyotes for the final wild-card spot in the West. Though, the Coyotes have two games in hand on them and are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games.
The Capitals also have two games remaining against division rivals in the Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers, though they have a combined 4-0-0 record against both of them this season. The Hurricanes, whom very well could face the Capitals in the first round, were one of the NHL’s hottest teams before losing 8-1 to the Jets at home last night. They are 14-5-1 in their last 20 games and have given the Capitals fits the past two seasons when the two have faced each other. The Flyers own the league’s best record (16-4-2) since January 14, though the Capitals dominated them for the most part when the two played each other last Wednesday.
They have at least one game against four of the top-five wild-cards in the East, including the Montreal Canadiens, another team who has given the Capitals fits this season, and the Florida Panthers, who are 7-3-0 against Washington over the past four seasons, including 2-0-0 this year.
Overall, the Capitals have gone 11-5-3 this season against their remaining opponents. They have just one set of back-to-backs this season, which will come on March 19 at the New Jersey Devils and March 20 vs. the Lightning.
The Islanders open a three-game homestand against the Flyers on Saturday with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are fighting for playoff position as they are currently two points out of the final wild-card spot in the East, and Canadiens coming to town after that.
Then they play eight of their last 12 games, including six of their next seven, away from NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum. Their level of competition at home? They have to face the Boston Bruins, the hottest team in the NHL, Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, another team who is playing for their lives, and Toronto Maple Leafs, an emotional game against their former captain in center John Tavares.
New York has a back-to-back set on the road next weekend with games against the Detroit Red Wings and Wild. The Islanders are 9-1-1 in the second game of back-to-backs this season.
After making a pit-stop at home, they hit the road for four of the next five games at the Canadiens, Flyers, Blue Jackets, and Jets, who have a home-record of 22-8-4.
They return home for a two-game homestand against the Sabres and Maple Leafs before concluding the season with a two-game road trip against the Panthers and Capitals, which is arguably the biggest game of the season for both teams.
Overall, the Islanders are 11-7-3 this season against their remaining opponents.
After tonight’s game against the Flyers, they will catch the Capitals in games played a second-time at the Wild on March 17.
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) March 9, 2019
Barring one of these teams goes on a lengthy losing streak, the Metropolitan Division crown will likely come down to the final game of the regular season between the Capitals and the Islanders. Even though the Capitals keep winning these days, the Islanders are not going away so they cannot afford to let their foot off of the gas. With a tough schedule the rest of the way, it should help prepare the Capitals for the grueling journey to hopefully repeat last season’s success.
By Harrison Brown