Which Teams Should The Capitals Fear In The Playoffs

Who should the Caps fear if they return to the Big Dance?
Washington Capitals
Washington Capitals / Patrick Smith/GettyImages

Believe it or not it looks like the Washington Capitals are poised to return to the NHL playoffs. After missing the dance last year, and for most of this season it looking like they were bound to miss them again this season, it now looks like it might be a little difficult for the Caps to not make them.

We still got time for things to happen. Bad and good. The Capitals still have nine games to play. Teams behind them in the standings have somewhere around the same. But as I have been saying, probably since at least January, there is so much average at the playoff line in the eastern conference all you have to be is just a little bit better than teams like the Red Wings and the Flyers. For a while now Washington has proven they are better than those teams.

With a return to the playoffs looking imminent I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the teams that the Capitals would want to avoid come the 20th of April. Or whenever the Caps play their first game. Who should the Capitals want to avoid in the playoffs? Who should they just simply flat out fear? Better yet, who should they want to play? Lets see if we can get some answers.

If you asked me, and you're reading this so in a weird way you have, I would say the Capitals are going to make the playoffs as the number three team in the Metropolitan division. That means that they will play one of two teams in the opening round. The New York Rangers, or the Carolina Hurricanes. And boy does that Hurricanes matchup sound fun, going up against old friend Evgeny Kuznetsov.

When talking about going up against these teams there is good news and bad news. In the big picture, it's mostly good news. Combined Washington is 4-3 against the Rangers and Hurricanes.

Starting with the Rangers, again, it's mostly good news. The season series went 2-2, both of the Caps and the Rangers winning their games in regulation. A lot of numbers however favor the Caps. They won in shot attempts percentage at 51.39%, They won the scoring chance percentage coming in at 53.25%, and they scored more goals at 5v5 9-8. The only numbers that Caps trailed in was high danger attempts, the Rangers had 34, Washington had 31, that meaning the Caps had a 47.69 high danger attempts percentage.

It would be a heck of a goalie matchup as well. Igor Shesterkin vs Charlie Lindgren. Shesterkin would and probably should get the nod as the favorite here. He's been there before, he's proven over years he is very good. Lindgren has had a good season. Can he steal games or series in the playoffs? Could he outduel one of the best?

Looking at the season series and the numbers, maybe the Rangers are not the scariest team?

Now moving on to the other metro team, the Hurricanes, the record on the season is, again, good. So far this season the Caps are 2-1 against Carolina. The bad news there is Washington has not beaten the Canes in regulation this year. The lone loss vs Carolina was a 6-2 thumping in early January. Washington won 2-1 in a shootout in December, and just a couple of weeks ago won 7-6 in a shootout. That also means they gave up six goals twice in three meetings this season.

The numbers vs Carolina this season are, to put it bluntly, ugly. The Hurricanes have a 166 shot attempts compared to Washington's 108, or, the Caps shot attempts percentage was 39.42%. Actual shots right now are 73-48. The Capitals also had just 42% of the scoring chances and 44% of the high danger attempts. All of that leaing to the Hurricanes outscoring the Capitals 7-5 while 5v5. Honestly not a bad score line considering those other numbers.

As a neutral, this is the series I want to see. I think the Capitals and Hurricanes have a fun little rivalry, even if some Caps fans on social media oddly don't want to admit that for some reason. The story of Kuznetsov vs his old team is really fascinating. And for the Caps, they could easily have the goaltending advantage in this series. It wouldn't be the first time that would settle a series.

But I think Carolina is a really good team. If you could pick a team that you would want the team to face in terms of winning a series, I'm not sure you would pick Carolina. These two teams will play each other one more time on April 5th. Maybe a good performance can change minds.

Now lets skip over to the Atlantic division. It is still very possible the Capitals slip into the wild card spot and they would have to face one of the top team over there. Florida or Boston, who would you want?

Boston currently leads the division with 101 points, Florida just behind them at 99. Lets start with the Bruins.

We just saw these two teams play. It was a very fun and entertaining game. That game was finally settled in a shootout. Washington is 1-0-1 against Boston, the win being a 3-0 win in Boston in early February.

The numbers vs the Bruins are not bad, some very good in there as well. Shot attempts ended at 48.37%, not great, but not what they are vs Carolina either. But shot attempts are just attempts, what are you doing with them? The Capitals lead in scoring chances, they're at 53.62% and they also have 60% of the high danger attempts. All of that leading to the 5v5 scoring being 2-2.

We just saw these teams play. Washington hung with one of the best teams in the NHL. If the Caps played Boston in the opening round and put a little pressure on them, maybe the Bruins get a little bit of that "here we go again" mindset? The Bruins lost to the Panthers, the worst team in the standings in last years playoffs.

The game vs the Bruins on the 15th of this month should be interesting. That is the second to last game of the season.

I don't think the Capitals playing the Panthers would be a good idea. They have met three times this season, the Caps have not won. They only lost once in regulation however, the Panthers needing extra hockey to win the other two times.

But, like Carolina, the numbers are not pretty. 44.48% in shot attempts, or 156-125. 73-44 in scoring chances and 41-19 in high danger attempts. 6-3 are the goals 5v5.

There isn't much for me to add here. I don't like the Capitals vs the Panthers.

We're not going to talk about the Lightning. It seems very unlikely that these teams will meet in the postseason. But you never know. We'll talk about them when/if we need to.

While it also seems unlikely the Capitals play this next team I think it's worth mentioning them, because based on the season series I think this is easily the team to avoid for Washington. The Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs are not the best team in the league, relatively speaking they are from from it based on the standings. But you would not know it based on the way they look vs the Caps. Three games, three wins, they outscored Washington 13-3 5v5, 16-5 overall.

The numbers aren't bad, they're actually good in some spots. 51.01% shot attempts, 54.20% in scoring chances, 47.54% in high danger attempts. Some good stuff in there.

But lets be honest. When you watched these two teams play this season, it seemed clear, the Leafs were or are not a good matchup for the Capitals. It doesn't seem likely these teams cross paths in the playoffs. But if they do it might be bad news the the Caps.

Any team can beat any other team in the playoffs. No one knows how the playoffs will go. At the end of the day it's a weird tournament that strange stuff can happen. The best teams fall a lot in the playoffs. Did anyone have the Bruins losing to the Panthers last season? It's hard to argue playoffs are the best way to decide who the best team is. But they are madly entertaining, and that's all we seem to care about. After all, sports really are nothing more than another form of entertainment.

So who should the Capitals want to avoid? It looks like they badly want to avoid Toronto, and I would not pick them to beat Carolina or Florida. But, while these teams are very good, the Rangers and the Bruins have not been as convincing against Washington. Maybe those are the teams to hope for when the playoffs get started in a couple of weeks.