Capitals in 'must-win' mode vs. Canucks

Published: Mar 12, 2014 12:30pm EDT
By Jeff Kryglik, Sports Writer for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Mar 12, 2014 @ 12:30pm EDT

 

With the Washington Capitals have dropped five of their last six games including a home and home series with the Pittsburgh Penguins Monday and Tuesday night, the significance of their game Friday night at home against the Vancouver Canucks has risen dramatically.

Washington now finds themselves 11th overall in the Eastern Conference standings and three points out of the final Wild Card playoff spot. Vancouver finds themselves in the same standing in the Western Conference as they are 11th as well, but six points out of a playoff spot. Both squads have just 15 games remaining and winning has to start becoming a habit before it's too little too late.

This is one of five opportunities on Washington's remaining schedule that they must take care of as the Canucks have found themselves as winners for just three of their last 16 hockey games. As for the other contests where games are deemed winnable for the Capitals, they face the Nashville Predators March 30, Dallas Stars April 1, New York Islanders April 5 and the Carolina Hurricanes April 10. There's no guarantee Washington will win all of these games, including the game against Vancouver, but these are the best chances for the Capitals to accrue 10 points over their daunting remaining schedule. 

So what must be done in order to get the essential two points at home Friday night against the Canucks?

Head coach Adam Oates will have to put pressure on the Canucks and reiterate to his team to play poised in their own zone as they are a team where a few mental mistakes can ultimately result in a loss. 

Just look at Monday's game against Pittsburgh. Washington outshot the Penguins 33-20 and played a bulk of the second period in Pittsburgh's zone. It only amounted to one goal and it had to be frustrating to leave that period without a significant lead. But that's the game Pittsburgh plays. They find a way to wear a team down and ultimately pin them into bad situations that opponents aren't comfortable with.

Also, Mike Green's mental lapse 46 seconds in led to Chris Kunitz's first goal of the game. Nothing could be done by Jaroslav Halak. He needs his defenders in front to support him especially against such talented hockey players.

He, or Braden Holtby, won't face that Friday night as the Canucks are one of the worst scoring teams in the league. In fact, they are 28th in the NHL with 2.3 goals scored per game. Their defensive efforts have been suspect as well as they gave up seven unanswered goals in a 7-4 defeat to the New York Islanders Monday night. Those seven goals allowed all came in the third period. 

This is a team Washington should handle. When it was rumored that they were trying to ship center Ryan Kesler elsewhere and ultimately shipped Roberto Luongo back to where he started his career with the Florida Panthers, it looked on the surface like this team had given up hope. They face the Winnipeg Jets Wednesday before making the trip to D.C., a team also fighting for a Western Conference Wild Card spot, so they will have a tune-up before facing Washington. 

Luckily for the Capitals, they don't play until Friday because they have some serious evaluations and mistakes to correct. They need to look at why they've been in games, but how they haven't been able to come away with two points. They need to start playing more desperate and start giving every ounce of effort they have before it is too late. And they can't take any opponent lightly because as the 2013-14 season has shown, just because they have made the playoffs every season since 2007, they are entitled to nothing.

Just think about the Detroit Red Wings who may miss out on the playoffs despite making the postseason 22 years in a row. They have to earn their right to play meaningful hockey in April, May and June. 

That means every game becomes a must-win, but games against lesser opponents are that much more magnified. 


 

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Jeff Kryglik
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