With almost 10 games to go in the season, the Washington Capitals (as of this post) are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Metropolitan Division crown with a league leading 95 points, even after a four game losing streak. That streak worries most Caps fans, and given the team’s history, their worry is valid. Since we cannot predict the future (for example, the Capitals will lose in the second round again because it is the curse of DC sports), and the Capitals would win back-to-back Presidents Trophies given the current situation, whom should they want to play in their opening round?
Micah Blake McCurdy’s point visualizations can give us the most likely playoff scenarios. Note that his cutoff for teams to make the postseason in the east is 92.3 points.
Given this information, let’s break down the most likely first round scenarios the Capitals have:
Columbus Blue Jackets
Currently, Micah has the Caps slotted into the second Metro slot, but given the knife fight that the Metro is, this could swing as soon as this is published. The Capitals have had mixed success against the Blue Jackets this season, going 1-2 overall. Sergei Bobrovksy is having his best season since the year he won the Vezina, and we all know how important goaltending is going into the playoffs. Cam Atkinson is putting up monster numbers, and John Tortorella has supposedly relaxed a bit this season. However, since winning 16 straight (broken by the Capitals), they have been sitting on an almost .500 record. Combine that with only 2 playoff appearances in the seventh slot in their respective divisions, this could be an interesting matchup, but it could leave the Caps battered for the second round.
Toronto Maple Leafs
This would be the first round opponent if the Caps get first in the Metro. The Capitals have split the season set with Toronto, going 1-1. Toronto is young and fast, which has given the Caps issues this season. Fredrik Andersen can steal some games, which will remind fans of when the Caps got Halak’d in 2010. There is a silver lining however: the Leafs are young, and because they are so green, they occasionally make these types of plays on defense. They are not nicknamed the Maple Laughs for nothing.
This is a good matchup if the Caps want to get to the second round relatively unscathed.
New York Islanders
This is another possible wild card opponent. The Capitals have faced the Isles in the playoffs before.
They won their opening series against them in the 2014-15 season. The bad news is that this season the Caps are 2-3 against them. Since Doug Weight was made coach, the Isles are 15-8-3. Thomas Greiss has positioned himself as the starting goalie, and John Tavares finally has some support. However, do the Islanders have enough depth? They have a slew of injuries to deal with, and going into the playoffs healthy is an absolute must for them if they want to compete.
Tampa Bay Lightning
This is the final option for the wild card slot. Under normal circumstances, this is a bad matchup for the Capitals. They split the season series 1-1, Steven Stamkos might come back from an injury and be fresh, and they play that same up-tempo game the Leafs play that drives the Caps insane. And then, this happened:
Day-to-day can mean a player returns next game, or is out for an undisclosed period of time. Tyler Johnson and Cedric Pauquette both have not played since their injuries, and if they are in the “undisclosed period” group, and the Lightning make it, that is not good for the Lightning. That is, however, good for the Capitals.
Who do you think the Capitals should play in the first round?