Capitals Head Out For Huge Eastern Conference Road Swing

NBC Sports WashingtonPhoto: NBC Sports Washington

After earning their seventh consecutive win in a 3-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday night, the Washington Capitals hit the road for four straight games, all against Eastern Conference opponents, and three of which come against the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals are 26-10-4 against the Eastern Conference this season, including 14-5-2 against the Metropolitan Division.

Pittsburgh Penguins – Tuesday at 7 PM ET (NBCSN, NBC Sports Washington)

The Penguins are fighting with the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets for playoff positioning as they enter Monday two points up on the Hurricanes for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division, though Carolina has a game in hand on them.

They have been inconsistent this season but have gone 6-2-2 over their past 10 games, including a 4-2 victory over the Boston Bruins on Sunday night that snapped the Bruins’ 19-game point streak (15-0-4). The Capitals are 1-1-1 this season against the Penguins this season, including a 7-6 overtime loss in Pittsburgh on October 4 in their first road game of 2018-19.

While they have three of their top-six defensemen out of the lineup, their cumulative .927 save percentage is the fourth-best in the NHL and their 3.41 goals-per-game average entering Sunday was sixth. Though, their average of 33.4 shots-against per game entering Sunday was tied with the Anaheim Ducks for the fourth-highest in the NHL.

While the Penguins are being tested on the backend with a ton of injuries, center Sidney Crosby, center Evgeni Malkin, and forward Phil Kessel all average higher than a point-per-game. Forward Jake Guentzel, who has 34 goals, 65 points, and a +15 rating in 69 games this season, and defenseman Kris Letang, who has 15 goals, 53 points, and a +10 rating in 60 games this season, have also had excellent seasons for the Penguins. Letang has missed time due to injury and will likely miss Tuesday’s game.

Philadelphia Flyers – Thursday at 7 PM ET (NBC Sports Washington)

After sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference at the beginning of January, the Flyers’ 17-4-2 record since January 14 is the best in the NHL. While they are red-hot at the moment, the Flyers are currently five points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with each team having played 68 games.

The Capitals have gone Flyers 2-0-0 against the Flyers so far this season, including a 5-3 win at Wells Fargo Center last Wednesday. Since a 5-1 loss at the Montreal Canadiens on February 21, the Flyers are 5-1-1 and will likely come up with a big game after giving up a 5-0 lead to the Capitals last week.

Entering Sunday, the Flyers’ average of 3.04 goals-per-game was the 12th-best in the NHL but their average of 3.31 goals-against per game was the fifth-worst in the NHL. In addition, their penalty-killing efficiency of 77.7% entered Sunday as the fifth-worst in the league. Their 55.3 faceoff winning percentage is the best in the NHL.

Forward Claude Giroux leads the Flyers with 53 assists and 73 points in 68 games this season. Center Sean Couturier leads the team with 28 goals.

Tampa Bay Lightning – Saturday at 7 PM ET (NBC Sports Washington)

The Capitals will return to Amalie Arena for the first time since advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final last season when they take on the league-leading Lightning for the first of three times in a span of two weeks, including twice in Tampa Bay.

Earlier this week, the Lightning became the first team in the NHL to clinch a berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They currently lead the league with 108 points this season, 15 clear of the Boston Bruins in the Presidents’ Trophy race. Their 29 home wins are the most in the NHL this season. They are on pace for 128 points this season, which would be just four behind the NHL record set by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens.

The Lightning lead the NHL with an average of 3.77 goals-per-game, a 28.6% power-play efficiency, and an 85.5% penalty-killing rate. In addition, their average of 2.61 goals-against per game is the fourth-fewest in the league.

Forward Nikita Kucherov leads the NHL with 77 assists and 110 points through 69 games this season. In addition, centers Brayden Point, who leads Tampa with 37 goals and is second with 82 points, and Steven Stamkos, who is second on the Lightning with 34 goals and third with 79 points, have been dominant forces for the high-flying Bolts.

New Jersey Devils – Tuesday 3/19 at 7:30 PM ET (NBCSN)

The Capitals conclude their road-trip with a stop at Prudential Center for the first time since losing 6-0 to the Devils in their home-opener on October 11. The Capitals have won both of their games with the Devils since, including a 3-0 victory on March 8.

The Devils’ 59 points this season are the fewest in the Metropolitan Division and the third-worst in the Eastern Conference. They have won just two of their last 10 games, though 17 of their 25 wins this season have come at home. The Devils sit 20 points out of the final wild-card spot and will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons since losing to the Los Angeles Kings in six games in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.

The Devils’ average of 2.75 goals-per-game this season is tied with the Minnesota Wild for the eighth-worst in the NHL this season while their average of 3.30 goals-against per game is the sixth-most.

They are currently missing forward Taylor Hall, the NHL MVP last season when he posted 39 goals and 93 points. Forward Kyle Palmeri leads the Devils with 26 goals and 48 points in 65 games while center Nico Hischier leads the team with 27 assists this season.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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