If the Washington Capitals want to get it in gear and save this season, maybe they can get some tips from the team they’re visiting today, the Winnipeg Jets.
Back in mid-February, the Jets had the look of a team that was drifting toward another season left out of the playoffs after a 5-8-1 start. They then proceeded to catch fire, winning four times on a five-game road trip and defeating the New Devils at home to end the month tied for first place in the (admittedly sad) Southeast Division.
Statistically, the Jets are almost identical offensively and defensively to the Caps, they’ve been inept on the power play (1-for-29 over their last 11 games), and their home ice advantage at the MTS Centre has mysteriously vanished. Despite all that, if they win today and the Carolina Hurricanes fail to take two points from the Florida Panthers, the Jets will be sitting alone atop the division.
It helps that captain Andrew Ladd has been leading by example. The 27-year old winger is having the best season of his NHL career, currently tied for fourth in the league with 12 goals. Evander Kane has shaken off some silly offseason criticism and has heated up in recent weeks, and even enigmatic Olli Jokinen has scored some big goals.
Winnipeg also hasn’t had the same injury problems as Washington, which made the trip without Mike Green and his ailing groin. Coach Adam Oates will once again call on one of his greybeards (meaning Tom Poti and Roman Hamrlik) to fill in, and he’ll be doing some shuffling up front as well. Agitator Aaron Volpatti, claimed off waivers from Vancouver, is probably in, meaning either Joey Crabb or Wojtek Wolski is likely out. Matt Hendricks moves up to the first line to replace offensively MIA Jason Chimera, who still hasn’t found the net in 2013.
Two things the Caps have been able to rely on the last few weeks should be keys once again. One is the power play, which has cashed in at least once in nine of the team’s last 11 games. The other is the play of Braden Holtby, who is slated to receive his ninth consecutive start.
If Washington is going to make any kind of run, it needs to start now when the gap between first and last in the Southeast is still tantalizingly close. One gets the feeling that this team is fragile enough that if it loses contact with the leaders, all may be lost. To put it bluntly, this is a big game, so let’s hope the Capitals answer the bell.
Washington Capitals at Winnipeg Jets
Start time: 3 pm EST
TV: NHL Network