There are only 23 games remaining in the regular season for the Washington Capitals. They currently sit three points behind both the last wild card spot and the third position in the Metropolitan division. The Caps went into the Olympic break with a 5-2-1 record in their last eight games. Those are the kind of results the team will need heading into the closing segment of the season to reach the postseason. A manageable task, but the team will be battle tested.
Washington opens up tonight on the road against the Florida Panthers. The Panthers are a team that was a slump going into the Olympic break and it is important for Washington to cash in two points tonight. This will be the least difficult match up the Caps will face over the next month.
Based on the opposition’s point totals, the Washington Capitals have the most difficult remaining schedule in the NHL. They play teams like the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and LA Kings multiple times.
It is officially make it or break it time for the Caps and they can prove their legitimacy. If they make it through this difficult schedule and get into the post season, they absolutely would have earned a playoff birth.
It will be brutal for Washington, but at the perfect time they are starting to get healthy again. The Caps will have key players making their returns tonight in Florida. Mikhail Grabovski will be back in the line up after missing a good chunk of time. Mike Green also makes a return after sustaining a concussion just before the Olympic break.
These two players are crucial parts of the line up that will benefit the team moving forward. The power play had been struggling for some time before the break. Mike Green brings another element to the extra man opportunities. He is always a threat to score from the blue line and his presence on the ice will keep the heat off of Alex Ovechkin. Green also brings experience back to the defense, so Washington will not need to rely on younger inexperienced players from Hershey.
Mikhail Grabovski is one of the top playmakers on the team. He will need to have a large impact in the remaining 23 games for this playoff push. One of the teams glaring problems is secondary scoring, especially from the second line. You can expect Grabovski to be back on the second line to see if he can create a spark.
Coach Oates has not decided on a goalie as of yet, but Braden Holtby should be the one in net. He has won four of his last five while putting up two shutouts. He will need to give the team strong goal tending down the stretch, similar to a playoff feel.
Looking at the upcoming schedule, it is imperative that Washington gets off to a fast start. Their next five games are against Florida, Boston, Philadelphia twice and Boston once again. Winning at least three of those games is the highest priority. The Flyers games are the most crucial, as Philadelphia sits three points above Washington in the Metropolitan division.
The trade deadline is at 3:00 pm Wednesday March 5th. The Capitals are not likely to make any moves by that deadline, but time will tell. The only acquisition that is still up in the air is whether highly touted prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov will come over for the remainder of the season. It would be nice to see him finally arrive and see what he could contribute to the club, but nobody is depending on his arrival.
So Washington resumes play tonight in Florida after a 19 day break from their last win over the New Jersey Devils. It will be a strenuous remaining portion of the season, but the Capitals can prove their worth. This isn’t the Southeast Division anymore and they don’t have an easy last stretch like last season’s late push. It is officially make it or break it time for the Capitals and it will be intriguing to see who steps up to make it happen.