For the first time in franchise history (since 1974) the Washington Capitals have captured the NHL regular season title and along with it the Presidents’ Trophy. The Caps didn’t play on Sunday night but when the San Jose Sharks lost to the Colorado Avalanche, 5-4 in overtime, it gave Washington the one point they needed to wrap up a prize that brings in a bonus of $350,000 to the organization, not to mention home ice advantage in each playoff series. Caps owner Ted Leonsis, Team President Dick Patrick, GM George McPhee, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, all of the players, and the rest of the Capitals employees should be extremely proud of this accomplishment after going through a nearly disastrous rebuilding that began in 2004.
But there is no time for celebration for the Caps as they collectively have a greater goal in mind: the Stanley Cup. The NHL playoffs begin on April 14 so Washington’s remaining four contests this week (vs. Boston on Monday, at Pittsburgh on Tuesday, vs. Atlanta on Friday, vs. Boston on Sunday) are basically meaningless from a team standpoint. However, Alexander Ovechkin is in a race with Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos for the Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals) and also is battling Henrik Sedin for the Art Ross Trophy (most points). But seriously, would Ovechkin want to risk injury to win some trophies he already has captured in the past? I think not, and as a result, if I am McPhee and Boudreau, I get together and start mapping out a final week game plan to make sure everyone on the club is well rested for the post season. Whether it is sitting players for certain games or just rolling all four lines or cutting back the minutes played by top guys such as Ovechkin, Green, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin, whatever it takes to make sure this team is healthy for next week is extremely important.
Last season, Washington went into the first round with top defenseman Mike Green suffering from an illness. Then when the Caps fell behind to the Rangers, three games to one, they expended a lot of energy to come back and during that rally both Green and Ovechkin suffered injuries. Those ailments played a big role in the Caps inability to knock off the Penguins. With the playoffs being a two month grind for the teams that reach the Stanley Cup Finals, I believe it is paramount for the Caps to make sure they have their entire club in good shape for the post season. With those thoughts in mind, Tuesday’s game against Pittsburgh, which comes after Monday night’s home contest against the Bruins, is a likely target for resting some of the top guys.
Finally, it should be noted that Washington has nationally televised games on Versus on Monday and Tuesday along with Sunday’s tilt on NBC but the Caps need to look out for themselves and do what is best for their team. We already know the league doesn’t have Washington’s best interests at heart so if ratings suffer for a week because the Caps sit some guys for the playoffs, who cares?