With three games remaining in their season, the Caps are gearing up for the playoffs and it’s time to analyze who they might play in the first round. The Caps look likely to win the Metropolitan Division for their fourth straight year, meaning they’ll face the team that finishes in the first wild card spot. That’s likely to be one of four teams: the Carolina Hurricanes, the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Montreal Canadiens, or the Pittsburgh Penguins.
A look at how #ALLCAPS have performed against each of their most likely first round playoff matchups. A number of caveats to this data, most notably the fact that we haven't played CBJ since their deadline roster overhaul. Who would you like to see first round? @NoVa_Caps pic.twitter.com/A6l0GcMiO9
— Caps Charts (@CapsCharts) April 1, 2019
Columbus Blue Jackets
Since the Blue Jackets currently sit in the first wild card spot, I’ll start with them. The Caps are 1-2-1 in four regular season matchups with the Blue Jackets, including a 3-0 loss their most recent meeting in which the Caps had a whopping zero high danger chances.
The Caps also have not faced the Blue Jackets since the trade deadline. Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen went all in, adding pending UFAs Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, among other moves. Though their assimilation has been rocky, the Jackets seem to be clicking at the right time with five straight wins. Though the Caps are still a better team, a rematch of last year’s first round is not the ideal matchup.
Another potential matchup is the Montreal Canadiens. The Caps haven’t played the Habs since last November, and the two teams have split the season series 1-1. Montreal
currently sits a point outside the playoffs by a point and two back of CBJ. The Caps have been decent against Montreal this year, but it’s important to emphasize that these games were both a long time ago.
The scariest part of playing Montreal would be Carey Price. Price has had a down year by his standards (.917 sv% and 2.50 GAA), but he’s still arguably the best goaltender in the league and capable of single-handedly stealing a series. For that reason, the Canadiens are not the ideal first round matchup.
Next is the Pittsburgh Penguins, with whom the Caps are all to familiar. The Penguins are a known, but dangerous, commodity. The Caps have performed well in their recent matchups with the Penguins despite a 1-2-1 season series.
Still, the Penguins are a very good team and have been hot recently, matching the Caps for the best point total since the trade deadline. Despite last year’s demon exorcism, they’re not the ideal first round matchup. However, it’s almost impossible for the Caps to go back to back without beating the Penguins at some point, so it wouldn’t be terrible to see them in the first round.
Last is the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes have great possession metrics overall, but the Caps have performed pretty well in those areas in their four matchups en route to a 4-0 season series in the Caps’ favor.
The Hurricanes don’t have elite goaltending and their top offensive players are young and have little to no playoff experience. They shouldn’t be written off, though. The Caps were beneficiaries of unusually high PDO numbers in their most recent pair of wins over the Canes (111.7 and 107.5). Still, the Canes are the least threatening team to face in the first round of the playoffs.
The Caps can and should beat any of these teams, but it’s still worth hoping for an easier first round. Anything can happen in the playoffs.
Who would you prefer the Capitals face in the first round of the playoffs?
By Tiger Bjorlund