There will be more hockey played this spring at Verizon Center. For the Washington Capitals and their faithful, that will come as welcome news. Had Saturday afternoon been the final time the boys in red skated on frozen pond until October, no doubt would a sour taste been left in their mouths at the hands of the New York Rangers.
As the Washington Capitals inch closer to a playoff berth, it’s time to start looking ahead at possible playoff matchups.
Though the Caps have only five games left on their schedule, there are still a handful of teams they can meet in the first round. Here’s a look at all the teams the Caps could face and how they match up against them.
New York Rangers
Caps record against them this season: 1-2-0 with one game remaining
How they could meet in the playoffs: The Rangers win the Metropolitan division and the Caps finish in a wild card spot. The standings would then dictate which division winner would play which wild card team.
Why they can beat the Caps: The Rangers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals last season and are even better this year ranking in the top three in the NHL in both goals scored and goals allowed per game. They are incredibly fast and incredibly deep. When Keith Yandle is on your third defensive pair, you do not have many holes on your roster. While the Caps boast the league’s leading goal-scorer in Alex Ovechkin, the Rangers boast the second leading scorer in Rick Nash.
Why the Caps can beat them: Henrik Lundqvist has only played once since Feb. 2 and has only a few games to get back into form. Even though Cam Talbot has played well in relief, there is no question who the team’s top netminder is. If he’s not back to form by the start of the playoffs, that’s a major blow.
Chances the Caps win the series: Slim. Not only are the Rangers the best team in the Eastern Conference, but they are also the worst matchup for the Caps. The Caps have no answer for the Rangers’ speed and the defensive pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have been a nightmare for Ovechkin in the past. With secondary scoring a major weakness for the Caps, it’s hard to figure out just how the Caps will score against Lundqvist and a defensive pair capable of shutting down Ovechkin. If you think Sunday’s win over the Rangers was a hopeful sign, keep in mind that the Caps were dominated by the Rangers in their first two meetings this season and for the first two periods on Sunday. The Rangers could have easily blown that game wide open, but missed several open opportunities in which they had Holtby beat. In a best of seven series, the Caps’ effort on Sunday would not be good enough to win four of those seven games.
New York Islanders
Caps record against them this season: 2-0-2
How they could meet in the playoffs: The Caps finish second or third in the division and the Penguins fall to a wild card spot.
Why they can beat the Caps: John Tavares is quickly becoming one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league helping the Islanders score the fourth most 5-on-5 goals this season. For all their current struggles, at one time the Islanders were far and away the best team in the Metropolitan Division. Jaroslav Halak in net is a wild card. He has been good not great this season, but every Caps fan knows how good he is capable of being in the playoffs. He carried a worse Montreal team all the way to the conference finals in 2010, he could certainly help this Islanders team go just as far.
Why the Caps can beat them: The Islanders have been reeling with seven losses in their last nine games. They are also relatively inexperienced and rank 21st in the NHL in goals against per game.
Chances the Caps win the series: High. It is always good for a team to get hot at the right time, but the Islanders have been fading down the stretch. They have gone from being the division leader to a tie with Pittsburgh for second place and trailing the Rangers by a wide margin. This will not be a confident group going into the postseason.
Caps record against them this season: 3-1-0
How they could meet in the playoffs: The Caps finish second or third in the division and the Islanders fall to a wild card spot.
Why they can beat the Caps: The Caps may have won the first three meetings this season, but the Penguins finally seemed to figure things out in their final matchup with a 4-3 win that was not as close as the score indicates. After failing to get any traffic at all in front of Braden Holtby, the Penguins were all over the Caps netminder and the crease. It certainly looked as if they had found the formula for beating the Caps in that fourth game.
Why the Caps can beat them: The Caps have dominated the season series, winning three of their four games in commanding fashion. In their first three games, the Caps beat the Penguins by a score of 10-1. The Penguins just cannot stay healthy this season. They got back Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist on Saturday just to lose Kris Letang to a concussion.
Chances the Caps win the series: 50/50. Two of the Caps best games this season were their first two wins against Pittsburgh in which they completely dominated. It’s hard to have much faith in Marc-Andre Fleury who is rapidly becoming Jose Theodore — great in the regular season, lousy in the playoffs. Secondary scoring won’t be an issue if Ovechkin scores at the rate he has against Pittsburgh so far this year with four goals and one assist in four games. The Penguins don’t have the defense to shut him down. Having said all of that, it’s the Penguins and they always seem to find a way to beat the Caps in the playoffs. Pittsburgh played poorly in their first three games against the Caps and they know it. When they finally get pressure on the net, they came out on top. Their gameplan would be to drive the crease hard and play physically against Holtby. That should scare Caps fans considering backup goaltending is a weakness. That’s not to say that the Penguins would intentionally try to hurt Holtby, but they certainly would not let him leave this series without a few bumps and bruises.
Caps record against them this season: 0-0-2
How they could meet in the playoffs: Montreal wins the Atlantic Division, Caps earn a wild card spot. The standings would then dictate which division winner plays which wild card team.
Why they can beat the Caps: Two words, Carey Price. The likely league MVP has been unreal this year and leads the NHL in GAA (1.88) and save percentage (.937) among goalies with at least 20 starts this season. Those are some crazy numbers.
Why the Caps can beat them: Take away Price and Montreal is actually a pretty mediocre team. Led by Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens are 23rd in the NHL in goals per game. With all due respect to Pacioretty, Montreal lacks an offensive superstar on their roster who is capable of taking over a series.
Chances the Caps win the series: Slim. Can Price actually carry Montreal past the Caps in a best of seven series? Absolutely give how he has been playing. A mediocre Montreal team with a hot goalie? The Capitals know how lethal that combination can be and this time the Canadiens will have home ice advantage. With P.K. Subban on defense, Montreal will sell out on stopping Ovechkin and the Caps do not have enough other weapons to beat Price.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Caps record against them this season: 2-1-0
How they could meet in the playoffs: Tampa Bay wins the Atlantic Division, Caps earn a wild card spot. The standings would then dictate which division winner plays which wild card team
Why they can beat the Caps: Good luck stopping the Lightning’s offense, the best in the NHL this season. Not only do they have Steven Stamkos, but they have three other players who also have passed the 20-goal mark (the Caps only have one as Troy Brouwer has exactly 20 goals) and have five players with over 50 points (the Caps have two). Most importantly, it’s not an offense that is dependent on the power play as they have scored the most 5-on-5 goals in the NHL this season.
Why the Caps can beat them: Ben Bishop may be a towering presence in net, but with a paltry .914 save percentage this season he has failed to establish himself as the dominating goalie a team needs for a deep playoff run. After getting swept in the playoffs last season by Montreal, you have to wonder how high confidence will be in Tampa this year.
Chances the Caps win the series: Slight edge to Tampa Bay. There will be plenty of scoring to go around in this one. The Caps defense won’t be able to bottle up Stamkos and Co. while Ovechkin will get his points against the unproven Bishop. The problem for the Caps is that they are absolutely awful when they do not score first. The only team with fewer wins than the Caps this season after conceding the first goal is Buffalo. They are a completely different team when they are down early, a position they could easily find themselves in often against an offense as lethal as Tampa’s. How confident are you that the Caps can score first in four out of seven games against the best offense in the NHL?
ALEX OVECHKIN SCORES 48 AND 49TH GOALS OF THE SEASON, INCHES CLOSER TO BONDRA’S TEAM RECORD
Jason Chimera had scored two goals in his past 23 games. On Sunday against the New York Rangers, he scored on two consecutive shifts in the third period to lift the Washington Capitals to a much-needed 5-2 road win over a team they could very well see in the first round of the playoffs in two weeks.
Chimera would not have been able to play the hero on Sunday without the contributions of the team’s best player, Alex Ovechkin. The Great Eight scored goals in the first and second periods to almost single-handedly keep the Caps in the game through the first 40 minutes. [Read more…]
What is the biggest weakness of the Washington Capitals?
It’s a simple question, but an important one. The playoffs have a way of exposing every weakness of every team very quickly. Knowing what those weaknesses are can help determine who the true Stanley Cup contenders are.
With nine games left in their regular season schedule, the Washington Capitals sit in a playoff position with a four-point cushion. To put it simply, they are the seventh best team in the Eastern Conference. But why? [Read more…]
The Washington Capitals battled back from a 3-0 deficit, but saw their comeback bid foiled by late penalties on Tuesday night as they fell to the red hot New York Rangers 4-2 at Madison Square Garden.
The Caps looked very much like a team that had played the night before as they fell behind early to the blue shirts on their way to a loss against one of the NHL’s hottest teams. The offense sputtered out of the gate, mustering only 11 shots through the first two periods. Against a goalie like Henrik Lundqvist, that’s just not enough. [Read more…]
The Washington Nationals survived a quiet start to score in every inning from the fourth through eighth and defeated the Texas Rangers 9-2 before 31,659 at Nationals Park
Stephen Strasburg gave up a pair of unearned runs in the second inning — on his own error then singles by the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters, including Rangers starter Colby Lewis — but nothing more, as he cruised through six innings in total, allowing just six hits and one walk, striking out nine.
Strasburg lowered his ERA to 3.15 and evened his record at 4-4.
Meanwhile, the Nats (26-27) busted out for 15 hits and a pair of walks against Lewis (L, 4-4, 5.44) and relievers Robbie Ross, Jr.
Denard Span and Jayson Werth had three hits apiece, with Anthony Rendon, Wilson Ramos and Nate McLouth all chipping in with two hits. The big blow, though, was Ian Desmond’s 10th home run of the season, a three-run shot in the fourth inning that finally got the Nats on the board.
We even saw a little of the bizarre, as Ramos’ walks came after five balls — both the scoreboard and home plate umpire lost correct track of the count.
The Nats host the Rangers Saturday at 12:05 pm Eastern. Doug Fister (2-1, 3.42) faces Nick Tepesch (2-0, 2.95).
NATS NOTES: Ryan Zimmerman made his first rehab start with Potomac Friday night. He went 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly as the designated hitter. He expects to play three or four more games with the P-Nats, including at least one in left field.
Following the Washington Capitals dispiriting 5-1 loss in Columbus Friday night, the Caps needed to come out Sunday against the New York Rangers and play with a renewed focus, intent on breaking the current 4-game losing streak. Instead, the Caps gave up a goal less than two minutes in the game and was owned by the home-standing Rangers, 4-1.
The now 5-game skid is the longest in Washington since the 8-game losing streak in December 2010.
The game was just 70 seconds old when Dmitry Orlov tried to play a delicate pass to Nick Backstrom to get out of his own end, and instead Rick Nash picked it off easily, skated in alone, and lifted a backhander over the helpless Philipp Grubauer as the Rangers took a 1-0 lead before the fans had filled the seats.
The Caps then had the better of play for a little while, but after a chanceless power play, the Rangers were granted a 5-on-3 chance after Martin Erat hooked in the offensive zone, then Karl Alzner hooked Mats Zuccarrello just 27 seconds into the first penalty. It took mere moments for Nash to record his second goal of the game and 14th of the season, as his wrist shot from the right wing circle slipped between Grubauer’s legs.
As the power play was expiring, Derek Stepan used Troy Brouwer as a screen, and his wrister got through as Grubauer could never find it. Just like that, the Caps were down 3-0.
The Caps had a 5-on-3 opportunity at the start of the second period and they took advantage of it, as Alex Ovechkin notched his 35 of the season, from the left wing circle, evading Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
But these days the Caps can’t handle prosperity, as the Rangers victimized the Caps shorthanded. Dominic Moore corralled a turnover in the Caps end, raced up the ice and unleashed a long shot on Holtby, who managed to kick it into the slot. Unfortunately, Ryan Callahan had outraced Orlov to the spot and slammed home the rebound to make it 4-1.
The Caps didn’t put up much of an effort for a comeback in the third period.
Maybe the biggest thing of importance in this one was Martin Erat taking three minor penalties. With his trade request already in the books, this game (and the need for a shake-up) could very well be enough for Oates and McPhee to remove him from the playing roster.
The Capitals host the Ottawa Senators Tuesday at 7:00 pm.
Eric Fehr’s goal, playing four-on-four with 5:09 left in the game, lifted the Washington Capitals over division-rival New York Rangers 3-2 before a capacity crowd at Verizon Center.
Fehr, playing in his 300th NHL game. took a breakout pass from Nick Backstrom, carried over the blue line, and sent a wrist shot that slipped past Rangers’ goalie Cam Talbot to break a 2-2 tie. The Caps — outplayed in much of this one — withstood the Rangers change the last few minutes of the game to hold on and escape with the two points.
The Caps raise their record to 20-14-4 in the process.
Phillip Grubauer was the Caps player of the game, making 38 saves on 40 shots, and bailing the Caps defense out time and again, especially with the pairing of John Erskine and Steve Oleksy on the ice.
The Caps got out first in this one. With Rick Nash off for tripping, Martin Erat worked the puck down the right wing boards to draw the defense, and backhanded the puck to Mike Green who was waiting at center point. Green unleashed a slap shot that beat goalie Cam Talbot glove side to give the Caps a 1-0 lead just 6:55 into the first period.
The Rangers led the Caps in shots on goal (14-7) and total shots (21-14) in the first frame, with both teams recording three shots on goal during the power play.
New York tied it up a mere 1:37 into the second period. Nick Backstrom was called for a very touchy interference call, setting up the Rags with their third power play opportunity of the night. The Rangers took full advantage, as a big slap shot from Brad Richards from the point was tipped by Benoit Pouliot, who slipped behind John Carlson at the top of the crease.
Despite being dominated for much of the second period, the Caps escaped with a one-goal lead. With just 1:05 remaining in the period, and the Caps getting absolutely housed by the Rangers forecheck, Steve Oleksy was able to bump the puck up along the boards and Ryan McDonagh was unable to corral it. Backstrom picked up the loose puck, skated in on the right wing and snapped a shot low-blocker side to beat Talbot and give the Caps the least deserved lead in all of hockey.
How badly did the Rangers own the second period? By the end of the frame, they held a 50-36 shot advantage — including 17-7 in shots on goal — with three shots on goal against coming in the 1:08 immediately preceding the Backstrom goal.
That lead didn’t last. Just 17 seconds into the third period, and with the Caps on a power play, Ryan McDonagh sprung Carl Hagelin, and Hagelin beat Grubauer 5-hole to knot the game at two.
But Fehr, who had a goal waived off earlier in the game, came through four-on-four to break the tie and the Caps nervously held on to secure the two points.
The Caps play Sunday at 5:00 pm ET when they host the Buffalo Sabres.
After soundly whipping the Nashville Predators 5-2 Saturday night, the Washington Capitals hoped to build off that performance against the New York Rangers, and build they did, establishing a 3-0 lead in the second period that the Rangers couldn’t overcome. Caps win 4-1.
After a scoreless first period, Jason Chimera whacked in a Martin Erat spinaround shot that left Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist sprawling on his back in the crease to give the Caps a 1-0 lead. Until then, Lundqvist hadn’t allowed a Capitals goal in 202 minutes, dating back to game 6 of the 2013 playoffs.
Less than 30 seconds later, the Capitals scored on Lundqvist again. This time, it was Steve Oleksy’s goal, his first of the season, assisted by Jay Beagle. Oleksy returned to the lineup against New York after being a healthy scratch for the last 7 games.
To pile on, Mikhail Grabovski was hooked by Ryan McDonagh on a breakaway, and earned a penalty shot. Grabovski went with a slapshot instead of a fancy move, which went top shelf on Lundqvist. The Caps led 3-0 by the end of the second period.
Nate Schmidt slapped home his second goal of the season, which appeared to deflect off Eric Fehr’s stick. The scoresheet credited Fehr with the goal at one point, but most recently has it as Schmidt’s goal. Either way, it was icing on the cake for the Caps, who played one of their best games of the season against a tough New York Rangers team.
Rookie goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who is serving as Braden Holtby’s backup while Michal Neuvirth recovers from an ankle injury, stopped 30 of 31 shots in his second career NHL start.
The Capitals have the day off Monday before hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center on Tuesday, December 10.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Washington Capitals were satisfied to loft shots from the perimeter against Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. The Rangers outworked the Caps and got a couple of greasy goals en route to a 2-0 win over the Caps in D.C. Yes, it’s the same story we’ve been writing about for the last couple of seasons. When the Caps face a grind-it-out team they usually end up looking out of sorts, lacking hustle and effort, and more often than not end up on the losing side of the ice. The Caps (2-5-0) wasted an opportunity to kick the injured and struggling Rangers while they were down.
1) The Rangers entered this game as one of the worst defensive teams in hockey. People were questioning Henrik Lundqvist’s near future openly in the press. The Rags defense was having much difficulty switching from a zone-based system to more man-to-man with the change in coaching from John Tortorella to Alain Vingeault. So what happens? The Rangers come in here an intimidate the Caps just like they did last spring, forcing the Caps to take poor shots and mostly knock them down before they ever reach The King. Caps were outshot 36-22 and had another 22 shots blocked. That’s being satisfied with taking crappy shots from the perimeter, and no one will beat the Rangers doing that.
2) The Caps won the overall faceoff battle, 37-31, but you certainly wouldn’t have known it by the possession stats. The Rangers dominated the Caps in offensive zone possession, especially in the second period, where it looked like New York could do anything they wanted in the Caps end. Especially brutal was the sequence that led to the Rangers second goal. Adam Oates had John Carlson paired with Alexander Urbom and sent out the 90-19-8 line to accompany them. Trapped in their own end for 1:35, the defensemen finally ran out of gas and both Carlson and Urbom were beaten by their assignments for the second goal. Where were the forwards helping out on defense? LOL.
3) Martin Erat: 6:20 TOI, including 1:16 short-handed, with an average shift of 0:38. That is called wasting an asset, and expensive one at that, both in salary and in cost to trade for.
4) Troy Brouwer made a lot of noise the other night calling out his teammates for lousy passes. We can only assume he lumped himself in there, and should by all rights admonish himself again following this contest. On the play that led to Ovechkin having to take a penalty on a short-handed breakaway, Brouwer tried a blind back-pass from the low slot that led to the Rangers odd-man rush the other way. Later in the game, unpressured in the middle of the ice, his pass in the neutral zone was behind Eric Fehr by a good three feet, leading to another offensive-zone possession by New York. On another topic, I totally think his collision with Derek Stepan was unintentional. Looking at the replay, he didn’t appear to have any idea Stepan was in his path he was so intently concentrating on getting to the bench.
5) Silver lining time? Braden Holtby was very good, except whiffing with the glove hand on the Rangers first goal. He got a very good look at John Moore’s soft wrister and was square to the puck. He tried to make a snap-catch instead of letting the puck get to him and he simply whiffed on it. Other than that, he was rock-solid. Perhaps playing in front of Kevin Lowe (part of Canada’s Olympic management team and Edmonton’s President of Hockey Operations) had something to do with his concentration level. Oh, did you hear the Oilers have interest in Michal Neuvirth?
The Caps are off until Saturday, when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets (2-3-0, tied with Caps at 4 points in Metro Division). I’m sure the coaching staff will have plenty so say this week in practice, but the biggest changes need to come from within. Oh. and maybe moving Erat up a line or two (or three).