If you just came back from a trip to outer space for the last few months and saw that the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets were playing with one team trying to hold onto first place and the other attempting to keep its faint playoff hopes alive, chances are you’d have it the wrong way.
Riding the crest of a 6-1-1 wave in its last right games, it’s Winnipeg who has a chance to stay atop the Southeast Division with a win tonight at the MTS Centre. And as Caps fans know all too well, it’s Washington who really needs to take three or four points from these back-to-back games against the leaders, or it might finally be time to start thinking about next season.
The Jets have been getting it done on both offense and defense while making their recent run. Blake Wheeler has the hot hand in the goal-scoring department, scoring seven times in his last seven outings. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec has also been tough to beat in Winnipeg of late, allowing less than 1.50 goals per game during his team’s three-game home winning streak.
Washington has been awful away from the Verizon Center for the most part but did manage to blank the Jets 3-0 on their last trip to Winnipeg behind 35 saves from Braden Holtby. He and Michal Neuvirth have split more of the starting chores of late, but even consecutive games doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll share the duties on this trip, as Adam Oates has shown a tendency to go with the hot hand regardless of who’s rested.
The forward lines could be getting another fresh look tonight thanks to the return of Brooks Laich. He made his season debut against the Penguins on Tuesday, and while he began the game on the fourth line, he ended it skating with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the top unit.
Mike Green pronounced himself ready to go, but Oates hasn’t sounded so sure, and it now appears the oft-injured blueliner will be a game time decision. With John Erskine and Tomas Kundratek out and Tom Poti doubtful, the Caps could use Green more than ever if he is able to play.
What’s at stake over the next two nights is pretty simple: the Caps either come away with points in both games and keep their dream of a late run for the division title alive, or they limp out of Winnipeg with most of the talk surrounding where Mike Ribeiro might be traded and how they might make out in the draft lottery. In a season that’s already had its share of twists, we’ll see how the team responds to that kind of pressure.
Washington Capitals at Winnipeg Jets
Start time: 8 pm EDT
TV: Comcast SportsNet Washington (Capitals), TSN Jets (Jets)