Capitals Have Sights on Higher Playoff Seed After Impressive Road Trip

The Washington Capitals just finished a five-game road trip in the midst of what was supposed to be a difficult April on schedule. Ten of the 14 games scheduled for the month were against teams who had already clinched a playoff berth or are in contention to do so. They are currently 7-2-1 in April.

It’s no secret Washington has been better on the road this season than at home. They boast the league’s best away record, and that honor was on display in the last five games.

Capitals Impressive on 5-Game Road Trip

The Capitals’ travels didn’t start off all so great. On April 14, they were dominated by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then, they earned at least a point in each of the next four, including a regulation win against the Colorado Avalanche arguably the best team in the NHL in Denver.

Before the game against the Avalanche, the Capitals defeated the Montreal Canadians 8-4, and later finished the road trip with an overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, then a shutout victory over the Arizona Coyotes.

Related: Capitals’ First-Round Matchup Will Be Tough No Matter What

What April has brought is consistency, which was actually carried over from March. Whether that can remain over the last four games of the season and into the playoffs remains unclear. It’s looking good, however.

What’s Working for the Capitals

It’s simple: The Capitals are scoring goals, which is something they’ve been known to do from time to time. Since the beginning of March, Washington ranks fifth in the league for goals per game at 3.87. That number has jumped to 4.30 during April.

Amazingly, but at the same time not really, Alex Ovechkin, 36, scored his 50th goal of the season along the way. This was the Great Eight’s ninth 50-goal season, tying him with Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the most in NHL history. He has scored 18 goals the last month and a half, including a four-game goal streak from April 6-12 and a three-game goal streak from April 16-20.

Alex Ovechkin scoring his 700th goal
Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin scoring his 700th goal, Feb. 22, 2020 (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Special teams have been solid during April as well. The Capitals rank eighth in power-play percentage (21.2) and sixth in penalty-kill percentage (88.9). Both are much better than their season averages of 19.8 and 81.8, respectively.

Despite the five goals they gave up to the Minnesota Wild and the seven Toronto dropped on them, the defense has still been decent. They’re giving up 3.20 goals per game during the month, which is good for 13th in the NHL, but the two aforementioned lapses are really what’s driving up that average. If those losses are excluded, they’re only giving up 2.50 goals per game, which would be good for third in the league for April. That includes games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins, Avalanche, and Vegas Golden Knights who are all in the top half of the NHL for scoring this month.

What may be a more convincing stat is the team is only giving up 26.9 shots per game, which is fourth best in the league for April.

Dominant Month Won’t be Quite Enough to Avoid Panthers

The main hope was to avoid a first-round matchup with the Florida Panthers. That would mean the Capitals would have to jump over either the Penguins or Boston Bruins in points, both of whom hold a two-point margin over them.

Washington Capitals Nicklas Backstrom Alex Ovechkin Evgeny Kuznetsov
Washington Capitals Nicklas Backstrom celebrates his goal with left wing Alex Ovechkin and center Evgeny Kuznetsov (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

That doesn’t seem so hard, it’s just one game, but the teams’ schedules refute that notion. Pittsburgh’s last three are against the Philadelphia Flyers, Edmonton Oilers, and Columbus Blue Jackets. One can assume they will win at least two of those. Boston finishes with Montreal, Florida, the Buffalo Sabres, and Toronto. One can also assume they will win at least two of those games.

Washington does have one more game left than Pittsburgh, but they play Toronto (today), the New York Islanders twice in a row, and end the season visiting the New York Rangers. They also may win two, but they need to win three of those contests, most likely, to avoid that dreaded first-round matchup against the Panthers.

Capitals Heading into the Postseason

The Eastern Conference is loaded, so it really doesn’t matter who a team has to play. This edition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is gearing up to be a great one, with the potential of all series going six or seven games.

Related: Panthers’ Giroux Loving His New Team

The Capitals can use this impressive road trip moving forward for confidence and momentum. They’ve beaten good teams and they’re playing at a high level. Facing the Panthers may be inevitable, but perhaps Florida should have more worry going into that series than Washington. Then again, they have won 13 straight. Two confident teams playing at a high level makes for some wonderful hockey, though.

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