April 6 vs. New York Islanders at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, FAN 106.7
New York Islanders 47-27-7
Washington Capitals 48-25-8
The Capitals put a coda on their 82-game regular season slate for 2018-19 on Saturday night in D.C. when they host the New York Islanders in the season finale for both teams, which enter the game as the top two teams in the Metropolitan Division standings.
By virtue of their 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night in the opener of a season-ending two-game homestand, the Caps nailed down a fourth successive Metropolitan Division title, erasing any hopes the Isles may have had of wresting the crown away from them on the final night of the season.
Washington got a goal from Lars Eller late in the first and another from Nic Dowd early in the second, and some staunch team defense and a 33-save night from Braden Holtby over the final 37 minutes sealed the game and the division.
"I think that was one of our goals going into the season, winning the division," says Caps defenseman John Carlson. "It's nice to get it done. I think we played a good game, played a real solid third in my opinion against a real desperate team."
The Habs had the better of the possession metrics in all three periods, but the Caps kept them out of the middle of the ice, closed on the Canadiens quickly when Montreal did have the puck, and rarely permitted the Habs to inhabit Washington ice for any lengthy stretches.
"Just keeping it a little more simple," says Carlson. "If we didn't have something first available, we just got the puck to the right spots and made it as hard on them as possible to come back at us. They're a desperate team and I felt like we did a real good job of limiting them to extended shifts or a flurry of really good chances."
Thursday's performance was a solid response for the Caps following a subpar outing in Florida on Monday, in the team's road finale for the season. In winning on Thursday, the Caps ensure that they will finish the season without suffering consecutive regulation losses since they lost four straight in regulation from Jan. 14-20.
"It shows consistency, but it's not a huge thing for us," says Holtby of the division title. "I think it was more important that we played a good, playoff-style game tonight against a team that was really desperate. It was fun to get back into hockey like that."
While the Caps know they will finish the season in the top spot in the Metro, they don't yet know the identity of their first-round playoff opponent. Going into Saturday's game, there are still three possibilities: Carolina, Columbus or Pittsburgh.
Video: Todd Reirden | April 5
"That kind of sums up how the Metro has been this year," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "It's been extremely competitive. Certainly we are happy and proud that we were able to come out on top."
For the Capitals, Saturday's season finale is nothing more than a low-key tune-up for the Stanley Cup playoffs, now less than a week away. Washington may rest a handful of regulars for the finale, and the Caps recalled forward Nathan Walker from AHL Hershey on Friday. Walker started the season with the Caps, picking up an assist in three games before being reassigned to Hershey. He totaled 14 goals and 34 points in 54 games with the Bears this season.
With the addition of Walker, the Caps will be able to rest up to three forwards and a defenseman on Saturday.
The Islanders are still seeking to cement their second-place standing; they enter Saturday's game two points ahead of third-place Pittsburgh. New York would have home ice for the first round of the playoffs merely by picking up a point on Saturday, or with a Pittsburgh loss. The Penguins host the Rangers on Saturday.
New York will also be looking to nail down the Jennings Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL team with the fewest goals against. The Islanders enter Saturday's game with 191, three fewer than Dallas (194). The Stars have two games remaining.
Whether or not they win the Jennings Trophy for 2018-19, the Islanders' defensive turnaround this season has been astounding. The Isles were last in the league in the same category last season, when they permitted 293 goals against. New York dropped from 3.57 goals against per game in '17-18 to just 2.36 this season, the biggest factor in the team's return to the playoffs.