In their last meeting, which took place on April 29, the Pittsburgh Penguins bested the Washington Capitals 5-4 in overtime. Both teams clinched playoff berth and are currently tied for first in the Eastern Division. Their next and final meeting of the regular season is scheduled for May 1 at 7:00 pm EST. This game will be all-important in the race to first place, but will also be a good game to watch. Let’s look over some of the key points for the Capitals in the upcoming match.
Alexander Ovechkin and John Carlson are both on the injured list for the Capitals with lower-body injuries. Ovechkin has missed Washington’s past three games after leaving the April 22 game against the Islanders with around three minutes left to go in regulation. John Carlson took a shot to the knee on April 27 and was a game-time scratch on the 29. It is unclear if either of the two will return against the Penguins for the upcoming game.
Daniel Sprong has come in to replace Ovechkin and has done so admirably. Sprong does not bring the powerplay dominance that Ovechkin has, but in his last five games, Sprong has scored four goals, including game-winners on April 24 and 27. If Ovechkin does not return on May 1 the Capitals have a strong backup option in Daniel Sprong.
Trevor van Riemsdyk is currently filling the defense spot opened by John Carlson’s absence. Before that, he was standing in for Justin Schulz, who made his return on the 29. Van Riemsdyk has performed well and seems to mesh with the other defensemen on the team. While he has not filled Carlson’s space in terms of putting up points, van Riemsdyk provides the Capitals with a strong sixth defender.
Strong Bottom-Six Showings
The Washington Capitals’ bottom-six forwards have been providing strong offense and defense in recent games. The Connor Sheary, Lars Eller and Michael Raffl third line and the Garnet Hathaway, Nic Dowd and Carl Hagelin fourth line have made their presence known in the past few games.
Sheary, Eller and Raffl got plenty of opportunities to show off their skills on the 29th as Peter Laviolette sent them out against the Pittsburgh top line. They were able to successfully defend the net and set up opportunities in the offensive zone. Eller and Sheary both shined with puck protection as they kept were able to maintain control in odd-man situations or against larger opponents.
Hathaway, Dowd and Hagelin also had some opportunities against the Pittsburgh first-line. They also generated offensive opportunities and continued to put out quick shots from the high slot or tops of the circles. They also lived up to their designation as the “hitting line, laying a good number of hard hits on Pittsburgh players. Hathaway, who is among the top-ten for most hits in the NHL this season, got involved in minor scrapes on almost every shift and had a lengthy conversation with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
The bottom-six also make up a large part of the Capitals’ penalty-kill, which is over 80% effective this season. Eller and Dowd do an excellent job winning penalty kill faceoffs. Hagelin and Hathaway take away shooting lanes and are great forecheckers. Seeing as Washington takes its fair share of penalties it is important to have a good penalty kill.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have the uncanny ability to turn a turnover into a goal. Even if they’re starting in their own zone, the Penguins are creative and make teams pay for giveaways. The Penguins’ first and third goals on April 29 came off turnovers by the Capitals. A turnover did not directly cause the Penguins fourth goal of the game, but the turnover allowed the Penguins to set up a stretch pass which resulted in a goal.
The Capitals will need to be careful with their passes in the defensive zone. Passes towards the middle of the ice or no-look passes are dangerous in any game but especially dangerous against Pittsburgh. In the offensive zone, Washington needs to be equally careful and make sure that they are ready to defend if they do allow a turnover.
The Capitals scored a healthy amount of goals on the 29th. If they can get the turnovers under control, they stand a good chance at winning against the Penguins on May 1.