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Capitals' playoff opponent watch: A suddenly open Metro race changes Washington's playoff scenario

Capitals' playoff opponent watch: A suddenly open Metro race changes Washington's playoff scenario

In the final stretch of the season, it’s time to start projecting possible first round matchups for the Caps.

As of March 15, Washington sits just two points ahead of Pittsburgh and three points ahead of Columbus for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. They also lead Montreal by 11 points for first place in the Eastern Conference.

As of right now the Caps would be playing: New York Islanders (77 points)

Caps’ record vs. Islanders this season: 2-3-0

Many expected the Islanders to drop out of the race with a nine-game road trip, but the Islanders managed a 5-3-1 record to keep their head above water. Still, New York may struggle to stay in this position because of the streaking Tampa Bay Lightning (more on them later). What also hurts them is how well the Boston Bruins are playing. That means even if the Lightning stay hot and catch the Bruins, Boston will be in a good position to slide into the wild card spot over the Islanders.

RELATED: Burakovsky rejoins teammates, eyes return to game action

Other possible playoff opponents

Pittsburgh Penguins (95 points)

Caps record vs. Penguins this season: 2-0-2

If you hated the NHL’s current playoff format before, just wait if we see a Washington-Pittsburgh series in the first round. Washington’s recent slide has left the door open for Pittsburgh and Columbus to take the top spot in the division. If that happens, the Caps will play the second or third place team in the Metropolitan, depending on where they finish. In my opinion, this matchup is unlikely to happen in the first round because the Blue Jackets would have to pass both Washington and Pittsburgh to win the division. I think if anyone passes the Caps, it will be the Penguins. While the Caps have earned at least a point in each game against the Penguins this season, you can go ahead and throw the record out when it comes to these two teams. Just about everyone believes if the Caps win the Stanley Cup, they will have to go through Pittsburgh, but not many thought this could happen in the very first round.

Columbus Blue Jackets (94 points)

Caps record vs. Blue Jackets this season: 1-1-1 (2 games remaining on March 23 and April 2)

If the Penguins do win the Metropolitan Division, Washington will face a John Tortorella-led Blue Jackets team. Columbus is not as good as they looked when they won 16 straight games earlier in the season, a win streak that was broken by the Caps in a 5-0 blowout, but to their credit they have kept pace with Washington and Pittsburgh to stay within striking distance of the top spot in the Metro. The biggest concern is goalie Sergei Bobrovsky who is having his best season with a .929 save percentage, 2.08 GAA and a career-high 37 wins. Caps fans all know just how much a hot goalie can change a series.

Boston Bruins (80 points)

Caps’ record vs. Bruins this season: 2-0-0 (1 game remaining on April 8)

Boston currently sits in third place in the Atlantic, but Tampa Bay is red-hot and trails the Bruins by only three points. Boston may not fall into the wild card, they may be forced there. This isn’t a case of a team falling off at the end of the season, the Bruins are playing well. They are 11-3-0 since former Capitals head coach Bruce Cassidy took over as interim coach and Brad Marchand sits tied for the NHL lead in goals with 35.

Tampa Bay Lightning (77 points)

Caps’ record vs. Lighting this season: 1-0-1 (1 game remaining on March 18)

A Lightning team that has grossly underachieved all season long is suddenly surging and making a serious push to reach the postseason. Even as the injuries continue to mount, it seems like there’s no slowing down Tampa. This is not a matchup you want to see in the first round. Tampa went to the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago and made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, forcing seven games out of the eventual Stanley Cup champion Penguins and they did it with Steven Stamkos playing in only one postseason game. Stamkos is skating with the team again and is nearing a return from a knee injury that has kept him out since November. Adding a superstar player to a team that is already on a hot streak makes the Lightning very dangerous.

Toronto Maple Leafs (76 points)

Caps’ record vs. Leafs this season: 1-1-0 (1 game remaining on April 4)

This is a team that Washington simply has not played well against this season. The Caps’ one win came on Jan. 3 in a game in which they allowed five goals and Braden Holtby was pulled after the first period. The Leafs are way ahead of schedule with their rebuild and have a very good chance of sneaking into the playoffs in that last wild card spot. Because of their youth and inexperience, a Washington-Toronto series is one the Caps should win, but playoff matchups against a Mike Babcock-coached team are best avoided.

Florida Panthers (71 points)

Caps’ record vs. Panthers this season: 2-0-0 (1 game remaining on April 9)

Philadelphia Flyers (70 points)

Caps’ record vs. Flyers this season: 3-0-1

Neither the Panthers nor the Flyers will go away, doing just enough to stay alive in the playoff race, but only just. I don’t anticipate either team doing enough to reach the postseason.

MORE CAPITALS: Prediction recap: Caps find their offense in win over Wild

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What Caps prospect Jonas Siegenthaler is doing to show he's ready for roster spot

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What Caps prospect Jonas Siegenthaler is doing to show he's ready for roster spot

Jonas Siegenthaler joined the Capitals' informal practices on Monday morning in an effort to get a head start on what figures to be a critical couple of months for the 20-year-old.

When training camp opens in mid-September, he'll be one of a handful of bubble players and prospects battling for two openings on Washington's blue line, if you count the spare. Even for those who don’t make the cut out of camp, it’s a chance to establish their spot in the pecking order for early-season call-ups.

Siegenthaler says he’s ready and looking forward to the competition.

“You work hard even more in the summer if you know [there are jobs available],” he said at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “And, obviously, every young guy knows that. I think every guy will get in great shape and do everything for the spot. And at the end, the better one will get a spot.”

“It’s going to be a hard battle,” the 2015 second-rounder added, “and I’m excited to accept that challenge.”

RELATED: Previewing the 2017-18 Metro Division

Siegenthaler is the first of the young defensemen to join the Caps’ informal offseason skates, having arrived from Zurich a few days ago. He wanted to get here early for a couple of reasons: to work out at the team’s top-notch facility and to show everyone how serious he is about earning a spot next month. A year ago, Siegenthaler did not get the chance to play in a preseason game.

“It’s a great opportunity to train here with Nemo,” Siegenthaler said, referring to Washington’s strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish. “I can get used to it and be more ready for camp. I’m trying everything to set my goals high — that’s why I’m here.”

He continued: “I want to show them that I want to play here. I think’s a pretty good sign. I think I’m ready.”

Coach Barry Trotz and his assistants, of course, will ultimately determine whether he’s ready — or at least how close he is to being ready based on camp and the preseason.

Siegenthaler, a left shot who is listed by the Caps at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, said he worked diligently with his personal off-ice coach in Switzerland this summer to improve his explosiveness. He also said he focused on building more upper body strength — another area the staff asked him to address following a solid showing at development camp in June.

“My skating, especially my quickness — it was my weakness over years and years,” Siegenthaler said. “I’m still working on it. You never can get to 100 percent, but you want the highest percentage [possible]. I will be working on quickness my whole career. I think that’s normal. I see improvements right now, and I hope I can improve more [before] camp and over the season.”

Another area where Trotz and company will want to see improvement from Siegenthaler will be his comfort level on smaller North American rink. It takes time, and he’s appeared in just 18 regular season and playoff games for the Bears over the past two seasons.

“It’s another game from Europe,” he said. “In Switzerland, the rink was bigger and you have more time. I need to get in my mind that you can’t always look for a beautiful [outlet] pass, or good pass. Sometimes it’s got to be a chip out with the boards.”

If he’s got to work his way up the ladder, he indicated that he’s ready to do whatever it takes. That said, his focus over the few weeks is going to be a singular one: earning a spot on the Caps’ roster.

“Everything is going to happen quicker, so I got to be ready,” he said. “But I think I am. We’ll see at camp.”

MORE CAPITALS: Devante Smith-Pelly on the list of top 25 most important players

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Capitals' 2017-18 Division Preview: Breaking down the rest of the Metro

Capitals' 2017-18 Division Preview: Breaking down the rest of the Metro

Last season, the Metropolitan Division was the toughest in the NHL, producing the Stanley Cup champ, the regular season champ and three of the top four teams in the overall standings.

How’s the division shaping up for 2017-18 after a summer of change for a few of its eight teams?

This week, CSN is taking a look at each club's offseason moves and predicting how they’ll do this winter.

Team: Carolina Hurricanes

2016-17 Results: 36-31-15 (87 points). Seventh in division, 12th in conference. Did not reach the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Justin Williams, F Josh Jooris, G Scott Darling, D Trevor van Riemsdyk, F Marcus Kruger

Notable departures: F Jay McClement, G Eddie Lack

2017-18 Hurricanes analysis and prediction: Carolina is arguably the most improved team this offseason and also return a stong, young core. The most important move was the trade for goalie Scott Darling. The Hurricanes were ranked 26th in team save percentage last season. If Darling can provide consistency in net, that will be a huge boost. Carolina finished last season eight points out of the playoffs. Even with some questions on offense, they can easily make up that gap with the improvements they made. 

Team: New Jersey Devils

2016-17 Results: 28-40-17 (70 points). Eighth in division, 16th in conference. Did not reach the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Nico Hischier, F Brian Boyle, F Marcus Johansson

Notable departures: F Michael Cammalleri, D Mirco Mueller, D Jon Merrill

2017-18 Devils analysis and prediction: After years of looking like they had no direction, there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel for New Jersey. The Devils improved tremendously on offense with Nico Hischier, the top overall draft pick, and Marcus Johansson. Did they do enough to end their five-year playoff drought? Probably not, but they did take a big step in the right direction.

Team: New York Islanders

2016-17 Results: 41-29-12 (94 points). Fifth in division, 9th in conference. Did not reach the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Jordan Eberle

Notable departures: G Jean-Francois Berube, D Travis Hamonic, F Ryan Strome

2017-18 Islanders analysis and prediction: After firing Jack Capuano midseason, the Islanders went 24-12 under Doug Weight. They then proceeded to do little to help him in the offseason. Jordan Eberle is a solid addition and their three-goalie headache is now solved thanks to J.F. Berube going to Vegas. But this is a team that did not make the playoffs last year and did very little to improve, banking instead on their prospects being able to contribute enough to get them over the edge. To go with the concerns on the ice, there is also a major concern off of it as they will have to deal with the headache of John Tavares nearing free agency without an extension. The noise surrounding Tavares' status will only get louder as the season goes on. Can they compete for a playoff spot? Sure, but they will ultimately be watching the postseason from home.

More Metro Division previews: