At the Canadian border, the Capitals will be declaring in their possession an eight-game winning streak. Things look a lot different than they did in December, eh?
Cue up you favorite driving mixtape, stock up on beef jerky, and hit the bathroom one last time because we’re not stopping! It’s time for a road trip.
Our 3,000 mile journey begins in D.C., where the Capitals have returned to familiar form, dusting off some lesser competition (read: Islanders) as well as some worthy adversaries (read: Blackhawks). If you read Ted’s book, it talks about goal-setting [Note: I didn’t actually read Ted’s book, but I’d be willing to bet “goal setting” is in there], so let’s set some goals for this journey, shall we?
In 6 games, you can take home a maximum of 12 points in the standings. In their road games this season, the Capitals have taken 39 points out of a possible 66 (they are 18-12-3 on the road), for a point collection rate of 59%. This means, from a crude mathematical standpoint, we can expect about 7 points from this trip. There are obviously more factors than that in play, so we’ll go ahead an set the bar at 8 points. That performance would keep the Capitals atop the Southeast Division most likely, and if the team collects a win in Philly, could even vault them to first place in the Conference.
Taking Care of Business
Now is not the time of year to play down to the level of the competition. Ottawa is dead last in the Conference in the standings and dead last in the league in goals scored. That matchup should hopefully be an easy two points for the Caps. New Jersey is also not a great hockey team this season, but has experienced a surge of late and won eight of their last ten.
To Be The Man…
…You gotta beat the man. While the focus this year has been on the Pittsburgh entanglements, the Flyers look the most poised of the Caps’ rivals to win the East. The teams will square off a week from tonight, and in a huge week for the Flyers, they will play the Penguins two nights later. How Washington approaches that game will be a decent indicator of their big-game readiness. Regardless of the outcome, it needs to be a tough showing for Washington. And if squaring off against a division-leader in the East wasn’t enough, the Capitals also have to squeeze in a bout against division-leading Detroit.
The Caps get to visit Montreal to open and close the road trip. The Habs have been just as hot as the Caps lately, and have been succeeding in similar fashion, with a focus on toughness and goaltending. These two teams match up very evenly, and I would not be surprised to see both games needing at least overtime to decide a winner. Depending on how the seedings shake out, these teams could get a replay of last year’s opening round series, but at a much later stage in the playoffs.
Get Well Soon
As important as this stretch may seem, more important is going into April with as clean a bill of health as possible. The team should take no chances with Mike Green’s injury, especially since, you know, a puck hit him in the freaking head. As long as the Capitals are still in position to qualify for the playoffs, I wouldn’t mind waiting to see no. 52 back in the lineup just in time for a tune-up game in the regular season finale. On the other hand, Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth need to get healthy A.S.A.P., or at least one of them does. As stellar as Braden Holtby has been, the Caps’ goaltenders’ strength is in their numbers. Holtby is young and may very well start to fatigue or simply cool off as he gets more work. Three possible hot hands are certainly better than one. Nick Backstrom’s hand isn’t too great a cause for concern, but as much as Marcus Johansson and Jason Arnott have stepped up in his absence, I could live with the centerman rejoining the lineup late in the trip and healing properly.
Holtby has obviously been unconscious this past week, stopping 110 of 114 and earning an NHL first star along with his first career shutout. Neuvirth is allegedly ready to play if needed, but a piece of metal in your eye might be something you want to let heal as much as possible. The concern is obviously overworking or exposing the young Holtby and, ultimately, creating more of a quagmire for Bruce Boudreau when all three goaltenders are healthy. If the playoffs started today, obviously you’d roll with Holtby until he gave you a reason not to. Maybe Todd Ford should keep his phone on, just in case. Let’s assume for a second that all three goalies are healthy. Which two are on the playoff roster? Who are you going with in Game 1? Many questions, still no conclusive answers.
I’m afraid to jinx it, but it appears that the bread and butter: Ovechkin, the powerplay, the deft passing and team chemistry, are back. It will be a test to keep it rolling into the postseason.
Buckle up and enjoy!