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While it may be hard to believe, the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 NHL season is reaching the final several weeks and for teams eyeing a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, securing their hold on a playoff position, or hoping to get to one, the next month and a bit will be vital in achieving those goals. For the Washington Capitals, the month of April will see them play 16 games in 29 days. In this piece, NoVa Caps analyzes the Caps’ remaining schedule in their push for the MassMutual East Division title.
Games Remaining: 4
Opponents: New Jersey Devils (2x), New York Rangers (2x)
Home Games: 3
Away Games: 1
Combined Record Against Opponents: 5-3-0
ANALYSIS: The Capitals face the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers two more times in the month of March, with two home games on March 25 and 26 at Capital One Arena and the Rangers at home on March 28 and at Madison Square Garden on March 30. Against each team, the Caps have been a tale of two teams. They are a perfect 4-0-0 against the Devils this season, while they have won just once against the Blueshirts while losing three times in regulation. Goaltender Vitek Vanecek has gone 1-2-0 against the Rangers, with a .937 Save Percentage and a 2.37 Goals-Against Average. The Capitals have scored just six goals against the Rangers compared to 12 Goals Against, while they have fared much better against the Devils, outscoring New Jersey by a 17-11 margin.
Opponents: New York Islanders (5x), Philadelphia Flyers (2x), Buffalo Sabres (2x), Boston Bruins (4x), Pittsburgh Penguins (1x)
Home Games: 6
Away Games: 10
Combined Record Against Opponents: 15-4-4
ANALYSIS: The month of April will be a busy one for Head Coach Peter Laviolette’s team, as they play 16 games in a span of 29 days. Their opponents will be tough ones, with the New York Islanders currently atop the MassMutual East Division and the Pittsburgh Penguins not far behind either the Isles or Caps with 40 points (to the Islanders’ 46 and the Capitals’ 44). While the Bruins sit in fourth place with 36 points, they have proven to be a tough opponent for the Capitals in the past, and the Buffalo Sabres are also not to be taken lightly despite a firm last place standing; however, the Caps’ perfect 5-0-0 record against the Sabres this season tells the tale of the tape. The Capitals have a combined 15-4-4 record against their opponents in the month of April, including a perfect 3-0-0 record against former Head Coach Barry Trotz’ Islanders, outscoring New York 12-6, and scoring more than 50% on their power play opportunities against the Isles (55.6%). Against all their opponents this season, the Capitals have struggled the most against Pittsburgh and Boston in Goals Against Per Game, giving an average of 3.50 against both teams, while scoring 3.33 and 2.50 Goals a game against each team, respectively. Boston has downed the Caps twice in regulation while the Capitals have beaten the Bruins twice, and the Caps have allowed their opponents from Beantown an average of 30 shots on goal a game. Tensions could also be lingering from the two teams’ last meeting, when Washington right wing Tom Wilson sent Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo out of the game with a hit that resulted in Wilson being suspended for seven games. The two teams’ first meeting will be on April 8 in Washington. Head Coach Peter Laviolette commented on the team’s busy schedule in Tuesday’s media teleconference:
“We’re cognizant of it. We don’t practice very much, I can’t speak to other teams and how they view it and what they do. I know we have a veteran team and I know the energy in which we play the game is really important. And so we will continue to look at the schedule. We had one day off written on the schedule but we gave them two. We just felt that it would be beneficial sometimes one day when you go back to work is like a quick break but if you can catch a second day off in there where you don’t have to come in and think about hockey, it’s a mental and physical advantage to it. We’re looking at it all the time, we’re trying to do our very best to be ready to play physically and mentally but also to make sure we have the energy to play the way we want to play”.
The month of April will be a crucial one for Washington and their hopes to win a division title for the sixth consecutive season as well as maintaining the best possible playoff position for 2021.
Opponents: Pittsburgh Penguins (1x), New York Rangers (2x), Philadelphia Flyers (2x)
Home Games: 3
Away Games: 2
Combined Record Against Opponents: 6-5-0
ANALYSIS: The final five games will be tough ones for the Caps as they look to close out strong against the Penguins, Rangers, and Flyers. They have been outscored these opponents by a 47-43 margin, and have a 1-3-0 record against the Rangers, who they face at Madison Square Garden in New York on May 3 and 5. The Capitals have lost their only game in New York this season. The Caps also have yet to score a power play goal against their opponents from Broadway this season, being held off the score sheet on each man-advantage this season. The Capitals begin the month at home against Pittsburgh on May 1 and close out the season on May 7 and 8 at home against Philadelphia.
CLOSING ANALYSIS: The Capitals’ 2020-21 season thus far has been a successful one, with a current 20-7-4 record at the time of writing. The month of April will be the most important month of the season in determining their finish in the standings and their eventual seeding in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their most important opponents will be the Islanders and Penguins, in terms of divisional standings, while their struggles against the Rangers and renewed rivalry with the Bruins will be games to watch as the Caps look to return to the promised land of the Stanley Cup Final.
By Michael Fleetwood