ARLINGTON, Va. -- The standings show that Washington doesn't have much to play for Wednesday night when the Pittsburgh Penguins come to Verizon Center (7 p.m. ET, NHL Network-U.S.). With the division title wrapped up and a 16-point lead in the Eastern Conference as a cushion, the Capitals don't seem to have much to gain by laying it all on the line against their rivals.
Or so you would think.
"It's going to be a great chance to see how we're doing heading into the playoffs," Tomas Fleischmann said Tuesday from Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
"We think we'll meet them eventually (in the playoffs) so we want to make a statement against them," added Brendan Morrison, who was standing about 15 feet away from Fleischmann in the Caps' dressing room.
As if they haven't made enough of a statement with the way they've played all season, including in two previous games against Pittsburgh (both wins), the Capitals see Wednesday's game as the start of their final countdown to the playoffs.
With 10 games left in the regular season, the Caps want to get themselves into playoff shape now and that means the mentality has to be of desperation even if that seems totally unnecessary based on the standings.
Washington is also nine points in front of Chicago and Phoenix in the race for the Presidents' Trophy.
"Every game we have to try to play like we're going to play in the playoffs because you don't have lots of time to think about how you're going to play in the playoffs," Alex Ovechkin said. "It's always nice when you know you're in the playoffs and you can just relax and enjoy the time before the playoffs. You have 10 games and you can maybe make some mistakes and it's not going to cost you a lot. We don't want to make these mistakes."
Morrison said the time is now for the Capitals to get their defensive awareness at a higher level than it has been all season. Washington may be first in goals per game (3.88) but its 17th in goals against per game (2.76).
Their goals for are likely to dip in the playoffs, when games are tighter because teams take less chances, so that means their goals against number has to go down as well.
"In playoff hockey very rarely are you going to score four, five or six goals a night, so you have to clamp down defensively and make sure your special teams are going well," Morrison said. "But, I've got a good feel and I think the team has a good feel for what we have to do to be ready. We're getting close."
Morrison isn't saying the Caps have to change their style to become more passive than aggressive. He just knows his team must be smarter in certain areas.
"If we're in a situation where we can try to make something out of nothing, we can't afford to do that," he said. "We have to get it into our head that the smart play is to wait for the next chance. We're going to get our chances."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl