The Washington Capitals might have been the first team to earn a playoff berth this season, but with other teams now catching up in points, they have some serious competition to face in the Presidents’ Trophy race.
If the Caps do win the Presidents’ Trophy, it’ll be the team’s second consecutive title. Hopes have been high all throughout January and February, but with the slump that happened to the Caps earlier this month, things did slow down for a bit. Washington has managed to make a steady recovery, having won their last three games.
The team now has 104 points, having come out of a 2-1 shootout win against the Columbus Blue Jackets in its most recent game. Washington may still be leading the league, but other teams aren’t far behind. The Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks are also in the triple digits, which means that Washington can expect some fierce competition ahead. With nine regular season games remaining, anything can still change.
Pittsburgh is easily one of the biggest obstacles standing in between the Caps and the President’s Trophy. With 101 points, the Penguins aren’t far behind the Capitals in points and could likely surpass Washington.
Lately, the Pens have been on a roll. They came off of a three-game win streak before dropping a 2-1 shootout decision against the Ottawa Senators. Star center Sidney Crosby has also been in the spotlight recently, picking up six goals and an assist during the winning streak. Crosby is now the league’s leader in goals with 41, which is the second most he’s had to date in a single season. During Washington’s 4-0 shutout win over the Florida Panthers, Crosby recorded his 10th career hat trick.
On the other hand, the Capitals’ star forward — Alex Ovechkin — has been quiet lately. In the last five games, he recorded just two goals, having previously had a 10-game scoring drought. With 29 goals and 32 assists for 61 points, Ovechkin is likely to end up having the lowest-scoring season if he can’t return to his scoring ways.
As the defending Stanley Cup champions, Pittsburgh is a real competitor with Washington for the Presidents’ Trophy and definitely not a team that will easily let its guard down.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Washington might have beat Columbus in its most recent game, but the Blue Jackets still carry a powerful sting. Last year, they were second-to-last in the Eastern Conference, but this year, they’ve been nothing short of menacing. With seven wins in their last 10 games, the Jackets can potentially steal the Presidents’ Trophy title from the Caps.
Columbus and Pittsburgh have been neck-in-neck in standing, which means that the Blue Jackets are just as tough of a contender for the Presidents’ Trophy. Like Washington, Columbus has also been strong on all fronts this season. Right winger Cam Atkinson currently leads the team in scoring with 33 goals and 27 assists and is on track to having his best season to date. With a league-leading save percentage of .932, Sergei Bobrovsky is also seeing his best season.
Amazingly, the Jackets were the team that the Caps defeated last year to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy. Still, this year is a different story — if Washington runs into another skid, then Columbus will find every way to capitalize.
The Capitals also have to watch out for the Chicago Blackhawks — the points leader in the Western Conference. With 102 points, the Blackhawks are only two points behind the Capitals — the equivalent to one win.
As a team with three Stanley Cup championships since 2010, the Blackhawks are at the peak of their dynasty. Solid chemistry has been a defining characteristic of the Blackhawks in recent seasons, something that few other teams can stack up to. Five players from Chicago played during the 2015 All-Star Game, occupying all positions on the ice except right wing.
Like Columbus, Chicago has also won seven of its last 10 games. The Blackhawks’ recent performance, combined with their on-ice talent, will give the Capitals a run for their money.
Either way, the message is clear — the Caps will have to compete especially hard between now and the end of the season. With other teams in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy, Washington has little to no room left for error.
I am a Vancouver-based sports journalist currently reporting for The Ubyssey, the campus newspaper of the University of British Columbia. Sports I have covered before include hockey, basketball, football, baseball, volleyball, rugby, field hockey, swimming and track and field.