The Washington Capitals enter Sunday with a playoff position locked up. When they take the ice in Pittsburgh tonight at 6 p.m., they will have an opportunity to lock up the Metropolitan Division with a victory of any kind.
Given the fact that there are still a handful of games to be played – and not a lot to play for – some expected that the Caps would begin resting some of their players to gear up for a playoff run.
Alex Ovechkin is at the forefront of this issue, as he mentioned this week that the injury that kept him out of this year’s All-Star Weekend was still noticeable.
This is absolutely not music to our ears, but head coach Barry Trotz quickly put to rest that they would consider resting their players unless it was absolutely necessary.
“If they’re healthy, what I would consider game-worthy healthy, then they should play, and they should play hard. I think when you start doing that, you’re asking for trouble. I really do. You’re going to battle. I’m a big Special-Ops guy; I really honor what they do. When they’re preparing for a mission, they’re not sitting back and going, ‘Oh, wait for the mission,’ and not prepare for it. They’re probably working as hard as they ever have because they want the mission to be easy. They don’t want it to become really hard that they can’t handle it.”
-Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz, via WaPo
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Hockey is a different animal from other sports. Momentum is most certainly a factor in hockey, which is why many of us were becoming increasingly concerned as the Washington Capitals struggled to put together strong performances over the past month.
However, in their two most recent games versus the Carolina Hurricanes and the Nashville Predators, it is apparent that the Caps have begun turning a corner and finding their old game again.
Complacency was quite possibly an issue for a while, as several things became very clear.
One of those being that this team was very special. They have been on a record setting pace from a franchise perspective all year long, and have set several league records as well.
Another reason being that this team probably feels like they can win any game no matter what. This has been evident in their several comeback victories, and even in the games where they came back and still fell just short. This is not a good habit, and the team probably knew it.
As long as the team turns this around before the playoffs, it will have been an afterthought. And with their most recent performances, it appears they have begun taking it more seriously again.
It is also important to remember that this team has not been at completely full strength for quite a while. Since early January when the Washington Capitals were struck by a rash of injuries, there has always been one or more players out of the lineup at any given time.
Now, with the signing of Mike Richards and the trade for Daniel Winnik, this team is very deep. There isn’t really a single spot on this team that somebody could point to and say that any given player could be replaced.
The Capitals are also set to see the return of one of their top players within the next week. John Carlson, arguably the team’s top defenseman, will not be a part of the Caps’ three game road trip, but could return next weekend when the team returns home.
When that happens, barring any injuries, the Washington Capitals will once again be at full strength. And for the final ten or so games of the regular season, we will hopefully get the opportunity to see this team find its old and dominating form as they storm – preferably not limp – into their most promising playoff run in franchise history.
As long as everybody is healthy enough to play, they should unquestionably continue refining their game over the final month.
The Washington Capitals will face the red hot Pittsburgh Penguins tonight in another chance to keep their foot on the gas and make a statement in a divisional match up.