The NHL All-Star break is a time for many teams to look back on their season thus far, and to search for new ways to improve their game as the entire league begins its push toward a playoff spot (or a lottery pick). From October 5th, (the first game of the season) all the way to April 7th (when their regular season ends), the Capitals have had, and will have, plenty of important moments, as well as some painful ones.
October 7th, 2017, 6-1 Win vs. Montreal
In only their second game of the season, the Caps were out to make a statement. Against a Canadiens’ team which had some question marks, Washington potted six goals, including four from Alex Ovechkin, coasting their way to one of the easiest wins they have earned so far this season. This gave them a lot of momentum heading into a week of games against the intimidating Tampa Bay Lightning, as well as three divisional opponents.
October 14th, 2017, 8-2 Loss vs. Philadelphia
Wake-up call. Exactly one week after laying a beating on Montreal, the Caps got chewed up and spit out of the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers skated circles around the Capitals, proving to the team that there weren’t going to be any easy games, as well as exposing some of the team’s problems with depth on defense.
November 10th, 2017, 4-1 Win vs. Pittsburgh
The ever-important games against the Penguins are always a highlight to the Caps’ season. In this one, Washington once again skated out to a victory against one of the Metropolitan Division’s strongest teams, and one that was the favorite to win the division ahead of the season. At this point, the team had really begun to find its stride, and seemingly only had a problem in games when Philipp Grubauer was between the pipes.
November 24th, 2017, 3-1 Win vs. Tampa Bay
Winning against the league’s best team may not have been the most important part of the night in this game. In his first six games, Philipp Grubauer was 0-5-1, and not playing the way he was capable of. This game was the turning point. Not only was this his first win of the season, but since then, Grubauer has been 4-1-0, which is a record much closer to what the Capitals expect out of him.
December 4th, 2017, 4-1 Win vs San Jose
Another game in which the outcome wasn’t quite as important as what happened during the game. In the second period, Sharks’ forward Joe Thornton bumped into T.J. Oshie with his rear-end, pinning his head to the boards and seemingly causing some serious pain for Oshie. As a result of this injury, Oshie was absent for the next six games for Washington, giving the Caps a huge blow, as one of their best scorers was sidelined for some important games.
January 25th, 2018, 4-2 Win vs Florida
After a slight skid after their “bye week”, Washington made sure to head into the All-Star Break with a win. A goal and assist from Ovechkin gave him his 30th goal of the season and 500th career assist. The win gave Washington some positives to mull over as they look to continue their winning ways as the playoffs approach.
February 2nd, 2018, vs Pittsburgh
Their first game after the All-Star Break is a big one against the Penguins. As of late, the Penguins have begun to look like their teams of the past two seasons. They have also made a significant climb in the standings, to third in the Metro Division. This game will be a key one for both teams, as they look to begin their march towards one of the top spots in the division.
February 26th, 2018 vs. Columbus, Trade Deadline
This is both an exciting and important day as both a Capitals fan and a hockey fan in general. Not only do the Caps have a game against one of their division’s best teams (their third against them in the month of February), but it is also the NHL trade deadline. Considering the spot they’re in currently, it is highly unlikely that the Capitals will be sellers at the deadline. However, it is also quite unlikely that they will be doing any buying either. Despite the very high chance of being a top playoff team, the Caps aren’t in a financial position to do any buying, for the same reasons that they lost players like Marcus Johansson and Karl Alzner over the summer of 2017: lack of cap space.
March 26th & 28th, 2018, vs New York Rangers, April 2nd, 2018 vs Pittsburgh
These three games against divisional rivals New York and Pittsburgh have the potential to be three of the biggest games of the season for Washington. Depending on both teams’ position in the standings, these games could push one of the teams into or out of a playoff spot, or help determine their ever-important playoff matchups, where they could be forced to play one another once again.
April 7th, 2018, vs New Jersey
This is the final game of Washington’s regular season. This will more than likely be another game that impacts one, if not both, of these team’s playoff positions, as well as determine momentum headed into the playoffs.
So far, the Capitals have had a season that, for many, has exceeded expectations headed into the season. They are nowhere near as deep offensively or defensively as they have been in years past, but they continue to battle through these issues to remain one of the league’s hottest teams. The key to success the rest of the way? A lot of consistency in their battle and heart. There is no reason for Washington to be any lower than a second seed in the Metro Division, as long as they continue to play the way they have this season. Should this continue, the Capitals will have yet another chance to break their own playoff woes, and try to hunt down that elusive Stanley Cup.