Week 15 Recap: Caps Regain First Place in East

Posted April 25, 2021

Evgeny Kuznetsov had three points against the Islanders on Saturday. (Caps Outsider)

After several days off break, the Caps opened the week on Thursday against the Isles, another team that is trying to make a late push to lead the division. 

The Caps entered the game Thursday with one of the best power plays in the NHL and the Isles with the best home record in the league. The game was the start of a major three-game stint with the Isles that will affect the playoff picture. As expected, the intensity was there right from the start. Despite several chances, neither team scored. While both teams came out aggressive, the Caps were well outshot in the first period. Fortunately, Washington came out firing in the second period and finished with more shots on the night. The defensive efforts from both teams held strong throughout the game as the two teams went a combined 0/5 on the powerplay, despite both sides having great power play units and penalty kill numbers. The game headed to a shootout following an unproductive overtime period in which Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game-winning goal to clinch a 1-0 victory for the Caps and a crucial two points. With the win, Washington improved to 4-2 against the Isles this season. Ilya Samsonov had an impressive night, saving all 26 shots, and was absolutely critical to the Caps’ success. With the win, Samsonov improved to 12-3-1 on the season, recording the third shutout of his career. Samsonov is also the only goaltender in the NHL this season to have fewer than four losses in at least 15 starts. Washington also saw forward Michael Raffl in his first game as a Capital since being acquired from the Flyers. In addition, the  Caps were without defenseman Justin Schultz (lower-body) in both games this week. 

The Caps faced the Islanders on Saturday in the second game of their three game series with New York. This time Washington was without Alexander Ovechkin (lower-body), the first game that the captain has missed due to injury this season. In his place, Forward Daniel Sprong took his spot on the first line. Samsonov also got the start in net again for Washington. It took no time for the Caps to get hot as Garnet Hathaway (5) and T.J. Oshie (17) opened up the scoring in the first ten minutes of the first period to give Washington an early 2-0 boost. Unlike Thursday, Saturday had far more scoring as the two sides put their offensive abilities on full display. The Islanders responded on the powerplay with an Anthony Beauvillier strike that cut the lead in half. New York also found the net on the Caps’ power play as Adam Pelech tied the game 2-2 in the second period with a nifty short-handed goal. Not long after the Caps took a 3-2 lead with a nice shot from Nic Dowd (9) off a pretty spin move. The goal was followed shortly by a tip-in from Sprong (8) off a smooth feed from Kuznetsov. The two-goal advantage did not last long as Jean-Gabriel Pageau brought the Isles within one as New York went 2-for-2 on the power play. The 4-3 lead only grew for the Caps in the third period with two great shots from Kuznetsov (9) and Sprong (9) respectively. Sprong’s strike marked his second tally of the night. Sprong’s impact was huge for the Caps, showing that even when a player like Ovechkin goes down, Washington has the depth to carry out a next-man-up mentality. The Caps finished the night with a 6-3 win, their second in a row over the Isles and third win in their last four outings. 

Next week the Caps will be back in action on Tuesday in their third straight game against the Islanders, followed by two against the Penguins on Thursday and Saturday. The Caps may be in first place, but the matchups against the Pens will be key in the coming week as Pittsburgh is only one point behind. Meanwhile, the Isles are three points behind and Boston is six points behind but have two games in hand. At this point in the season, the top four teams in the division are pretty much locked in for the playoffs, but the seeding can still shake out in many ways. The Caps, Penguins, Isles and Bruins all have an opportunity to climb the rankings. 

As the season has started to wind down, there has also been a noticeable difference to the Caps’ intensity. The push for the playoffs has increased Washington’s aggressiveness and offensive production. If this continues and the Caps are able to be consistent against the other top three teams, it will certainly make them a dangerous contender in the playoffs. The Caps will also be banking on their power play and depth as those are also two crucial factors that will only propel Washington as they look for another Stanley Cup run.