Caps rest some players, Ovi guns for Rocket vs NYI
It took 81 games, but the Washington Capitals have repeated as Metro Division Champs for the 4th straight season after their 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night. Now they will look to repeat as Stanley Cup Champs for the second time when the playoffs start next week. Winners of five of their last 6 games the Caps have been playing sound defensive hockey and are dictating the game vs some of the Eastern Conference’s hottest teams as 3 of the wins came against playoff teams including powerhouse TB and consecutive victories over the blazing Carolina Hurricanes, while the 4th eliminated the desperate Habs from the postseason.
One last game remains tonight vs ex-Caps coach Barry Trotz and his New York Islanders who are still not in a solidified a seeding as they are only 2 points up on Pittsburgh with each team one remaining game. This wouldn’t change anything for the Caps who will face the 2nd wildcard team spot currently held by Carolina. However, should Pittsburgh lose to the Rangers and Carolina wins against Philadelphia, we could see a Caps-Pens opening round.
Alex Ovechkin enters tonight's game with 51 goals as he looks for his %% Rocket Richard trophy with a two-goal lead on Edmonton’s Leon Draisiatl (49) who also has one game left vs the Calgary Flames.
It’s big news in Oiler country right now, and they will be looking to feed Drasiatl and I do expect him to score 50 to join Ovi, but the Great Eight will ultimately win the race.
Washington has been getting great depth scoring and will enter the playoffs with seven-20 goal scorers and three players with over 50 assists. Ovechkin has 48 assists and could push that number to 4.
Evgeny Kuznetsov has been heating up as the regular season ends. He has 12 points in his last 11 games and has had dominating shifts as he is a gifted possession player, though at times he is too hesitant to shoot for my liking.
The Islanders come into tonight's game as the stingiest team in the NHL allowing only 191 goals against but they do not score much as they sit 10th worse in goal production. Washington’s 10th ranked Power Play should be able to take advantage of a less than stellar Islander PK squad with a 79.7% efficiency rate sitting 12th in the league. They may have to as the 5on5 game of the Isles, as Caps fans would be well aware of, is going to be tough to crack.
Tom Wilson has lived up to his new 6 year $31M contract and then some. The burly winger who many are having a hard time finding a comparable to in the NHL has put up monster numbers when you look at what some may have expected from the 2012 1st round pick. After missing games due to suspension and injury earlier in the year, he managed to put up 22 goals and 40 points in just 62 games before tonight. Pro-rated to a 30-goal season and he has easily surprised some of his biggest detractors.
He still plays very physically and is second in the league in penalty minutes with 128.
With the Caps clinching the division, coach Rierden is going to try and mitigate any unnecessary risks with is line-up and ice-time.
After discussions between Ovechkin and coaching staff, a mutual decision was made for him to play, as they feel it boded well last year. Phoenix Copley will start in goal as Braden Holtby will also get some rest before the playoffs.
Nathan Walker and Jonas Seigenthaler were recalled from AHL affiliate Hershey Bears to help with some of the line-up changes. Seigenthaler will be in tonight along with Dmitrj Jaskin, who had been a healthy scratch.
Game time is 7:00PM from Capital One Arena in DC.
Can Ovechkin catch Gretzky???