After jumping out to a 4-0 lead for the third time in their last four games, the Washington Capitals held on to beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 in Quebec Saturday evening. Their offense was rolling in full force, with the Capitals getting two goals each from their top two goal scorers, forwards Alexander Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer. Nicklas Backstrom added a power play goal and Braden Holtby turned aside 36 of 37 shots faced to put the Capitals in prime position to lock up their fifth Southeast division title in the last six years.
The blueprint to lock up the division is as easy as follows: beat the Winnipeg Jets in regulation on Tuesday, and the crown belongs to the guys in red. They better do so on Tuesday, because the Caps are just 1-3-0 against their remaining two opponents (Ottawa and Boston) after Winnipeg.
What could be a good sign, is the Capitals annihilation of the Jets of late, winning three in a row against them by a combined score of 13-1. All three of their wins came in Winnipeg, with Braden Holtby notching shutouts in two of the three contests. The other matchup between the two came in Washington, with Jets winning 4-1. Only now, the Capitals are a completely different team.
Adam Oates has implemented a system which has his team firing on all cylinders. It took a bit for the team to adjust to, hence the Capitals 2-10-1 start to the year, but now they are playing as well as any team in the league. The Capitals continue to boast the NHL’s best power play unit, striking tallies on nearly 26 percent of all their power play opportunities this season. Since the rough start, the Capitals are 23-8-1, good for the second best record in the Eastern Conference in the last 32 games.
As the Capitals chase another Southeast division crown, Ovechkin chases his third Richard Trophy for top goal-scorer in the NHL. He is currently three goals ahead of reigning winner Steven Stamkos who has 27 goals on the year. It would be the first time Ovechkin won the trophy sine the 2008-09 season, which happened to be his first postseason appearance.
A spot in the postseason is all but certain for the Capitals, but if they can’t beat the Jets on Tuesday, they don’t deserve to get in. If they do, they will be a tough team for others to handle.
There are just two teams in the Eastern Conference that the Capitals haven’t beaten this year, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators. They will have a chance to beat Ottawa in the upcoming week but they surrendered all three contests to the Penguins.
Matt Schreiber is the Florida Panthers Lead Writer for The Hockey Writers. He grew up just outside of Washington, DC before moving to Boca Raton, FL, where he currently resides. He also covers the NHL for Bleacher Report.