While the Capitals were knocked back in the Eastern Conference standings Thursday night because of Winnipeg’s 7-0 win over Florida, they could quickly erase the deficit and move back into a playoff position by Monday.
The Capitals’ games this weekend, tonight against New Jersey and Sunday against Philadelphia, offer them the opportunity to make their move up the standings. Ninth-place Washington (69) holds three games in hand on the Jets, who sit in eighth but are only one point ahead and don’t play again until Monday.
That said, the Capitals still have precious little room for error moving forward, and the 10 games they have remaining at home in Verizon Center remain extremely valuable. And unlike the three teams Washington defeated to create this winning streak, the Devils and Flyers are ahead in the standings in seventh and fifth place, respectively
“Those are two really good teams,” Joel Ward said. “It is a challenge for us and if you win outright you advance and move up the standings as much as you can. That’s the goal, not worry about everybody else but worry about ourselves.”
An interesting stat to keep in mind for tonight’s matchup is that the Devils lead the league in shorthanded goals scored (13) and shorthanded goals against (13). Knowledge of the shorthanded tallies New Jersey has allowed encourages the penalty kill to be even more aggressive and look for a chance in addition to a simple chip out of the zone.
“You’ve got to read it. If it’s going to be something that’s a grade-A chance, you’ve got to go for it,” Karl Alzner said. “If it’s just so-so and the guy is back-checking pretty close, then that’s when, if the play doesn’t happen right away, you’ve got to get out of there.”
Conversely, the Capitals know a bit about allowing shorthanded chances against. Washington has allowed eight shorthanded goals this season, tied for third-highest in the league, and Coach Dale Hunter wants to make sure the power play buttons up some of its mistakes to prevent those rushes going the other way.
“I’m more worried about our power play giving up – we’ve been giving up breakaways lately, so we’ve been watching video of that; we can’t take a lot of risk up top,” Hunter said. “Bouncing pucks or bad passes usually create the breakaways or odd man rushes and we’ve got to limit that. You’ve got to make a play but there’s a safe play. You have to make the safe one, which is always the right one.”