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Washington Capitals in Tight Three-team Race for Division Crown

The MassMutual East Division is as tight on the high as a closing five-hole. With 17 video games remaining, the Washington Capitals, New York Islanders, and Pittsburgh Penguins shall be jostling for playoff seeding down the stretch. One will emerge with the regular-season crown, whereas the 2 others should be conscious of a sleeper within the standings.

Capitals in Three-team Race for Division Crown

Tuesday night time’s video games supplied little readability for which group has an edge in successful the East. Within the month of March, the Capitals, Islanders, and Penguins separated themselves from the remainder of the groups within the division with spectacular win streaks and general data. The Boston Bruins additionally helped the aforementioned three with a sub-standard 9-7-4 report over their final 20 video games.

Washington, New York, and Pittsburgh have been sensible over the identical span. Their respective runs have been bolstered by lengthy win streaks and successful video games in time beyond regulation as a substitute of settling for only one level. It’s no surprise the highest of the East standings is so tight. The Capitals should play 5 extra video games towards the opposite two squads whereas the Islanders and Penguins have already accomplished their regular-season sequence.

Right here’s a have a look at how every group can declare the one-seed within the postseason.

Washington Capitals: 25-10-4 (T-1st, 54 factors)

The Capitals might have the hardest route to finish the season on high of the division. They nonetheless have three video games remaining towards the Islanders and two towards the Penguins—all 5 being in a row. Much more troubling is that they solely have two video games left towards the Buffalo Sabres and have accomplished their regular-season sweep of the New Jersey Devils. In different phrases, they don’t have any gimmies remaining.

Fortunately, they solely play the New York Rangers twice extra this yr, however the sequence is towards the top of the season. The Rangers have dominated the Capitals to date. As for his or her different head-to-head data, Washington has fared nicely towards the higher groups within the East. The Capitals have successful data towards the Islanders, Boston, and Philadelphia Flyers and have earned factors in 5 of their six matchups with the Penguins.

The principle opponent for the Capitals to observe is Boston. They play them 4 extra instances however have struggled to attain towards the Bruins. With as many offensive stars on the ice throughout these contests, the groups have mixed for simply 24 targets in 4 video games, the Bruins outscoring the Capitals 14-10. These bodily defensive battles may take a toll down the stretch.

Subsequent Recreation: Thursday, April 8 versus Boston (communicate of the Satan—not New Jersey).

New York Islanders 25-10-4 (T-1st, 54 factors)

The Islanders had a incredible March. New York earned a bulk of their nine-game win streak the primary half of the month, and their general March report was 11-4. Despite the fact that the Islanders have taken the final two from Washington, together with final night time’s 1-0 victory, they nonetheless submit dropping data towards each the Capitals and Penguins.

Nevertheless, New York’s full divisional efficiency may assist them down the stretch. Of their 17 video games left, they play Boston and Buffalo a complete of 5 instances—two groups they’re undefeated towards this yr (11-0). Additionally, as talked about, their season sequence with the Penguins is already over.

The red-hot Rangers could be the Islanders’ greatest impediment. They skate towards their metropolis rivals 5 extra instances. Just like the Boston and Washington season sequence, the battle for New York has been low-scoring. Within the three contents up to now, The Islanders have outscored the Rangers 6-5. As is the case with the Capitals, the Islanders ought to be cautious of turning into weary late within the season.

Nest Recreation: Thursday, April 8 versus Philadelphia.  

Pittsburgh Penguins: 24-13-2 (2nd, 50 factors)

The Penguins are an enigma, particularly on the highway the place they’re 8-10-1. They play to the extent of their opponents. Pittsburgh is 10-4 towards Washington and the Islanders. But, they’re 5-7-2 towards Boston, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.

If Pittsburgh is able to taking part in nicely towards groups they need to be beating, then they may leap each the Capitals and Islanders. The Penguins have extra management of this race than many consider due to their remaining schedule. On paper, they realistically solely have 4 powerful matchups remaining: back-to-back sequence with the Bruins and Capitals April 25-Might 1. That week might resolve the division.

Subsequent Recreation: Thursday, April 8 at New York Rangers.   

Division Sleeper

Nobody ought to low cost the Bruins; it’s most likely benefiting Boston to get their poor play out of their system mid-season. Nevertheless, all groups ought to keep watch over the Rangers. They at the moment sit at fifth within the standings, however New York is 6-3-1 of their final 10 video games. The Rangers have eight head-to-head matchups left towards the highest three groups within the division, and their general report towards these three groups is 6-5-0.

The Rangers are younger and defensively stingy. New York has the youngest roster within the league at a mean of 25-years-old and receives excessive manufacturing from their stars. Artemi Panarin has 11 factors in his final 4 video games and leads the group with 40 general—together with his four-point efficiency final night time towards the Penguins—and he’s performed solely 27 video games as a result of his little challenge again house.

One vital stat to think about is objective differential. For being fifth within the division with 41 factors, the Rangers nonetheless submit a plus-22 objective differential which means they’re staying in video games they lose. Shut video games within the postseason are a lot totally different than shut video games within the common season. Something can occur within the playoffs—if the Rangers can leapfrog over the Bruins.

Division Prediction

Because of the realignment of the division this season, it’s simpler to trace and analyze a group’s remaining power of schedule. Within the East’s case, what number of extra instances will a top-tier squad face the Devils and Sabres? As a result of the Penguins have 9 video games remaining towards the underside dwellers of the division, search for Crosby and the gang to have the higher hand. Their final two video games of the common season are towards Buffalo. If they’ll survive their four-game stretch with Boston and Washington, they are going to be in a great place to win the East.

Their reward: A doable sequence with the sleepers, who they’ve dominated this yr (save final night time, after all) or a collision with the Bruins, who could also be lastly hitting their stride by that time.

Vitek Vanecek, Washington Capitals (Photograph by Patrick McDermott/NHLI through Getty Pictures)

For the Capitals, maybe a first-round matchup with the Islanders wouldn’t be the worst situation. It’s the New York squad they really play nicely towards this season. Despite the fact that Pittsburgh has the simpler remaining schedule, Washington can nonetheless very nicely win the East. The Capitals have to proceed to be environment friendly on offense and keep away from giving up a flurry of targets that allow opponents again right into a sport. Maybe having a stronger schedule down the stretch will assist them higher put together for a protracted playoff run.