With the NHL Trade Deadline now just eight days away, the week ahead is the final test for the Capitals to prove that they have the players in place to make a deep playoff push.
Mike Ribeiro’s status is understandably the biggest concern for Washington hockey fans as the Caps’ leading scorer remains without a contract for next season and could fetch a nice return in what is expected to be a seller’s market.
The Capitals though are playing their best hockey of the season and have pulled within two points of a playoff position in the Eastern Conference for the first time in two months.
Washington also has a favorable schedule in the weeks ahead with seven straight games and nine-of-ten overall against teams currently on the outside of a playoff position.
Washington has a combined record this season of 3-2-0 against this week’s opponents with all three victories having come on home ice.
Below is a preview of the week ahead. All statistics are through Monday’s games.
TUESDAY, MARCH 26 VS. NEW YORK ISLANDERS (14-15-3; 4TH PLACE ATLANTIC DIVISION)
The Capitals were also riding high going into their last meeting against the Islanders, having won 8-of-11 before falling 5-2 in Uniondale, NY, on March 9.
Phillip Grubauer made his first career NHL start that afternoon and the Capitals were without injured forwards Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson and defensemen Mike Green and Jack Hillen. John Erskine was also limited to just two shifts that afternoon due to injury.
The Islanders and Capitals enter Tuesday’s rematch tied for 10th place in the Eastern Conference with 31 points each; two back of the eighth place New York Rangers.
The Islanders arrive to D.C. fresh off a 3-0 win on Sunday against the Florida Panthers in which Evgeni Nabokov made 26 saves for his second shutout in five games.
John Tavares is second in the NHL with 19 goals- three shy of the NHL’s goal-scoring leader Steven Stamkos.
SATURDAY, MARCH 30 @ BUFFALO SABRES (13-15-4; 5TH PLACE NORTHEAST DIVISION)
The Capitals seek a three-game season series sweep against the Sabres as they make their only visit of the year to Western New York on Saturday. The Capitals took both games against Buffalo at Verizon Center earlier this season, including a 5-3 win on March 17.
Coach Adam Oates earned his first career NHL win on Jan. 27 when the Capitals beat the Sabres 3-2 to improve to 1-3-1 on the season. That game also proved to be Lindy Ruff’s final contest against the Capitals as the longtime Sabres’ bench boss was relieved of his duties on Feb. 20 after a 6-11-1 start to the year.
The Sabres have since gone 7-4-3 under Rolston, who is coaching on an interim basis through the end of the season.
Tomas Vanek has been one of the few bright spots for the Sabres this season and he began the week tied with Alex Ovechkin for seventh in NHL scoring with 16 goals in 28 games.
SUNDAY, MARCH 31 @ PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (13-16-2; 5TH PLACE ATLANTIC DIVISION)
The Flyers enter the final week of March on the outside of a playoff position, having lost two straight games and 6-of-8 overall to fall five points behind the eighth place Rangers in the Eastern Conference.
Jakob Varocek has been among the few bright spots offensively for Philadelphia this season as he leads the Flyers with 13 goals and 32 points in 31 games.
Claude Giroux has struggled to repeat his career season of a year ago in which he finished third in NHL scoring with 93 points in 77 games. This season the Flyers’ captain is tied for 30th in league scoring with 28 points in 31 games.
Secondary scorers like Brayden Schenn (no points and a minus-10 rating in his last eight games) and Sean Couturier (no points and a minus-8 rating in his last 13 games) have also struggled of late.
Former Capital Mike Knuble has played just once in the last month and has been a healthy scratch in seven straight games and 9-of-10 overall. In 18 games this season, Knuble has two goals and six points.