PHILADELPHIA – The Washington Capitals have nothing at stake for the last seven games of the regular season. With the Presidents’ Trophy clinched, the team’s focus can shift to priming itself for the playoffs. What better way to do that than face a potential first-round opponent in the Philadelphia Flyers?
“They’re in a battle,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said on Monday. “We’re going to see their best on Wednesday, and I think we’re ready for it now. I couldn’t say that maybe a couple of weeks ago, but I think we’re ready for it now. We’re actually looking forward to the challenge.”
Unlike Washington, Philadelphia has everything at stake, still fighting to make the playoffs. The Flyers and the Detroit Red Wings both have 87 points, vying for the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed, but Philadelphia has a game in hand. The Capitals know they’ll see a desperate team on Wednesday, one that’s given them some fits this season. After Washington won the first meeting handily, the last two games have been decided by one goal.
Why does Trotz think his team is ready for the challenge now?
“I think we’re playing with better pace and we’re playing with a little more focus,” Trotz said. “All of those things, effort in areas, details and all that are better. You can see that in the chances going way down. That’s a good thing. I think we’re more ready for it. … The chances of us playing them [in the first round] are pretty good, so if we go in with the right attitude and are ready to go and ready to play and all that, it’ll be a good experience for us no matter what, the environment, the intensity, all of those things.”
After a 4-2 Capitals win in Ottawa last week, players felt mostly frustrated after a victory that secured the Metropolitan Division title. The game seemed to highlight the uneven play that had plagued the team since the all-star break. After a three-goal first period, Washington didn’t play well the rest of the game, allowing the Senators to creep back into it. Goaltender Braden Holtby said the team was “kind of sick” of how it’d been playing recently.
In the three games since then, the Capitals have sensed themselves nearing their playoff form. They allowed just 22 shots on goal in an overtime win against the New Jersey Devils on Friday. Saturday’s 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues looked lopsided, but that game turned on a few defensive lapses by Washington and the Capitals not burying their chances on the other end. Holtby again saw just 22 shots against the Blue Jackets on Monday.
Trotz has reiterated that urgency can’t be manufactured, which is part of the struggle of a team in Washington’s position having clinched the Presidents’ Trophy before any other team in the conference has even sewn up a postseason berth. Now that the playoffs are within sight, the Capitals feel urgency in their game against the Flyers.
“I don’t know how it’s all going to play out, but there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to play them in the playoffs, so I think everybody is kind of treating it that way,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think you go in there and leave a mark, I think psychologically, it could have a little bit of a carryover if we started against them.”