Alex Ovechkin is calling it the “biggest week” of the Capitals season- four road games in six nights including back-to-back matchups against the Winnipeg Jets.
“How we going to play this week, we can end the season this week or we can continue to fight for the playoffs,” Ovechkin said after the Capitals’ 5-3 win Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres.
The Capitals also visit the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight and the New York Rangers on Sunday to bookend the road trip which may go a long way in determining Washington’s playoff chances.
Washington has a combined record this season of 1-5-0 against its upcoming opponents with the one win coming March 2 in Winnipeg.
Below is a preview of the week ahead.
TUESDAY, MARCH 19 @ PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (22-8-0; 1ST PLACE ATLANTIC DIVISION)
The Capitals are a much different team than the one that began the season 2-8-1 and they have a 10-7-0 record since then to prove it.
Among their defeats during their 2-8-1 start to the year were two losses against the Penguins- 6-3 on Feb.3 at Verizon Center and 5-2 on Feb.7 at Consol Energy Center.
“Obviously Pittsburgh is not an easy team,” said Capitals center Mike Ribeiro. “But in the few games that we played against them, we were able to have good starts but then kind of [became] undisciplined a few times. We’re going to need a 60 or 65 [minute] game against them.”
The Penguins enter play tonight with the No.2 rated power play in the Eastern Conference at 24.1 percent (only Washington is better at 24.5 percent), and the Pittsburgh PP has gone 5-for-8 against the Capitals this season.
Pittsburgh is also on a season-high nine-game winning streak despite having played the last five games without reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins have allowed just five goals against over the five-game stretch.
Up front, Pittsburgh’s top-line of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis has produced at least one goal in 13 straight games and Crosby remains the NHL’s leading scorer with 48 points in 30 games.
THURSDAY, MARCH 21 @ WINNIPEG JETS (15-12-2; 2ND PLACE SOUTHEAST DIVISION)
The Capitals and Jets will meet two times in as many days this week in Winnipeg in a set of back-to-back games that could go a long way in determining top spot in the Southeast Division.
Winnipeg enters play Tuesday tied with the Carolina Hurricanes for top spot in the division, but the Hurricanes are technically the No.3 seed in the Eastern Conference with one game in-hand on the seventh seeded Jets.
Despite a 4-1 loss on Sunday against the Ottawa Senators, the Jets are among the hottest teams in the NHL having gone 5-1-1 in their last seven games overall and 11-3-1 in their last 15 overall.
Captain Andrew Ladd leads Winnipeg with 14 goals and 29 points this season, and begins the week on a four-game scoring streak with a goal and four assists over that span.
FRIDAY, MARCH 22 @ WINNIPEG JETS (15-12-2; 2ND PLACE SOUTHEAST DIVISION)
Just as the Capitals hit the road for four straight games this week, the Jets can settle in this week with a four-game homestand at the MTS Centre.
The Jets have won three of their last four games in Winnipeg with their only home loss in the last month coming against the Capitals.
Braden Holtby stopped 35 shots and Matt Hendricks, Troy Brouwer and Mike Ribeiro all scored as the Capitals blanked the Jets 3-0 on March 2 in what was arguably Washington’s best road game of the season.
“I think if we could look at the script of the Winnipeg game, that would be a good one to look at,” Hendricks told the Capitals official website last week as the Caps began a stretch of 9-of-11 on the road.
“We came out and played well, we got the lead, we shut their fans down and we kind of took some energy out of the building. If we could do that that would be great every time.”
Only the Florida Panthers (3-8-1) began the week with fewer road wins than the Capitals (4-8-1) in the Eastern Conference.
SUNDAY, MARCH 24 @ NEW YORK RANGERS (14-12-2; 3RD PLACE ATLANTIC DIVISION)
The Capitals will look to avoid a season-series sweep against the Rangers when they meet for the third and final time this season on Sunday in New York.
Despite Braden Holtby making a season-high 38 saves on Feb.17, the Rangers beat the Capitals 2-1 in their first meeting this season at Madison Square Garden.
Holtby was then pulled in the March 10 rematch at Verizon Center after allowing three goals on 19 shots in a 4-1 Rangers win. Michal Neuvirth came on in relief and stopped 10-of-11 shots in his first game action in more than a month.
The Rangers have since lost three-of-four to drop to ninth place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the Hurricanes, Jets and New Jersey Devils. New York has been outscored 10-4 in its last four games.