On Tuesday, three of the top four teams in the Metropolitan Division didn’t feel like winning. The Carolina Hurricanes clinched the division with a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers, who deserve some leniency for losing, however. They had already secured home ice in a first-round series.
Yet, the team they will play remains undetermined as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals are trying to avoid playing New York. Though a valid worry, the alternative is much worse: playing the Florida Panthers in Sunrise.
Capitals Blow Chance to Move up … Again
The Capitals’ loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday is concerning. The Penguins hosted the hot Edmonton Oilers, so a loss to Connor McDavid and company isn’t shocking. But this was the second chance Washington had to either gain ground or pass Pittsburgh for the third seed in the Metro.
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The first chance, though they salvaged a point, was a shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday. The negative aspect of this outcome is three-fold. First: the Penguins gifted Washington with an opportunity to tie them in points by losing to the lowly Philadelphia Flyers – but now they remain one point behind. This was reversed on Tuesday when Pittsburgh lost to a formidable foe, and Washington was upset, to say the least.
Second: an old flaw resurfaced from back when the fanbase teetered on the edge of panic mode; they blew a two-goal lead late, giving up both tallies that forced extra time in the last eight minutes of the third period.
Third: Alex Ovechkin got injured.
Which Capital Will Emerge?
Washington’s captain is now listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury, which, on paper or with the information team officials are providing, doesn’t seem so bad. But it kind of is. Day-to-day is one of the more uncertain classifications though it sounds hopeful. At least injured reserve or long-term injured reserve provides clarity and some sort of timeline. Day-to-day is just a we’ll-see-what-happens scenario, which ultimately means it could be extended because there is no known severity to the injury yet.
This negative outlook perhaps stems from what was a very disappointing two-game losing streak. The team and fans should be wary and expect to move forward this week without Ovechkin finishing the regular season. That means someone needs to step up if they want to hop the Penguins and get into that first-round matchup with the Rangers. Would they rather be Ovi-less against New York or Ovi-less against Florida?
Last season, Daniel Sprong picked up the slack with Ovechkin out of the lineup. This year, the man the Capitals traded Sprong for is in a spot to do the same. Marcus Johansson rejoined Washington on March 22 after being acquired in a trade with the Seattle Kraken – their new favorite trade partner. The forward has six points in 16 games for the Capitals while averaging 14:23 of ice time.
His production is about to increase out of necessity, or his opportunity to produce, that is. Since leaving Washington after the 2016-17 season, Johansson has bounced around the league. He spent six years with the Capitals, reaching the postseason each time and recording 30 points (9 goals, 21 assists) in 69 playoff games.
Anthony Mantha also has an opportunity to have a major impact. Since returning from shoulder surgery, he has been solid with 16 points (7 goals, 9 assists) in 25 games. Before his injury, he only played in 10 games and recorded six points (2 goals, 4 assists).
This will also only be Mantha’s second postseason appearance, the first was last year when he played five games and registered two assists. If Ovechkin can’t start the postseason, Mantha needs to step up because he has a lot to prove anyway.
2 Games Remain
Last night, head coach Peter Laviolette kept his lines intact, playing Johansson with Nicklas Backstrom and Conor Sheary, and Mantha with Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie. The latter will be key to start the postseason if Ovechkin can’t go. Connor McMichael was slotted into the top line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson against the Islanders. The rookie will also be given a chance to raise his game.
With the Boston Bruins handing the Panthers their second loss in a row, the first wild-card spot, or seven-seed, is out of reach for the Caps. It’s either the second wild-card or third in the division. Pittsburgh only has one game left, which is against the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday night.
Washington has two games remaining versus the Islanders and Rangers. They have a chance to jump Pittsburgh if they win out, but that’s going to be tough without Ovechkin, as will a first-round matchup against either the Rangers or Panthers. They can no longer waste opportunities, even though it just became a tad more difficult.