The Islanders enter Saturday night's game with a two-point lead over third-place Pittsburgh in the Metro standings. The Penguins hold the tiebreaker with New York, so the Isles need to finish with a higher point total than Pittsburgh. One point tonight against Washington or any kind of Pittsburgh loss would give the Isles the home ice advantage for their first-round matchup with an opponent to be determined.
Heading into the season finale, there are still three possibilities for Washington in terms of a first-round playoff opponent: Carolina, Columbus and Pittsburgh. The Caps haven't played a meaningful - for them, anyway - regular season finale since 2008, when they defeated Florida to wrest the Southeast Division title from Carolina.
Saturday's game doesn't mean anything to the Caps, but they're likely to have their eyes toward the out-of-town scoreboard from time to time during the game against the Isles. Pittsburgh hosts the New York Rangers tonight, Columbus visits Ottawa and Carolina visits Philadelphia. The outcome of those games and the one here in Washington will ultimately determine the first-round playoff match-ups in the Eastern Conference. All four contests get underway at 7 p.m.
Video: Rinkside Update | Dmitrij Jaskin
So I Can Take My Rest - With the regular season finale once again holding no significance to them in terms of the standings or any upward mobility, the Caps will be resting a trio of regulars for Saturday night's game against the Islanders. Forwards Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie and defenseman John Carlson will sit out Saturday's game to get some extra rest, and that means Chandler Stephenson, Dmitrij Jaskin and Jonas Siegenthaler will get sweaters tonight in their stead.
Backstrom turned in another stellar season, reaching the 70-point plateau for the sixth straight campaign and netting at least 20 goals for the fourth straight season. His average ice time this season was 19:57 per night, his highest nightly average since 2014-15 when he averaged 20:32 during his age 27 season.
Oshie averaged 18:37 a night over 69 games this season, the most ice time he has seen on average since 2015-16 (18:58). He surpassed 20 goals and 50 points for the third time in his four seasons with the Capitals.
For the second straight season, Carlson is the only NHL defenseman to log more than 300 minutes of power play ice time and 200 or more minutes of shorthanded ice time. The 29-year-old defenseman had a career high 70 points (13 goals, 57 assists), and is the first Caps blueliner to reach that plateau since Mike Green had 76 points (19 goals, 57 assists) in 2009-10. Overall, Carlson averaged 25:04 per night in ice time, a career high for him.
Video: Todd Reirden Pregame | April 6
The Walk - The Caps recalled forward Nathan Walker from AHL Hershey on Friday, and Walker participated in the team's Saturday morning skate and will take warm-ups tonight ahead of the game with the Islanders.
Walker started the season on the Washington roster, and he skated in three games with the Capitals before being reassigned to Hershey. With the Bears this season, Walker has 14 goals and 34 points in 54 games.
"I would say at this point he is an extra player," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of Walker's recall. "He is going to take warm-up, and we'll see how things go.
"For me, that was a guy that was a part of this last year with us, and had had a strong body of work all year down in Hershey, and is someone that I think was able to pop in on a moment's notice and help us last year.
"So I just wanted him to know that he has not left our minds in terms of being someone that we could potentially be leaning on again. It's a long run, and you're going to need lots of different people. And it's a good chance for me to stare him right in the eyes and tell that to him."
Walker stepped into the Washington lineup for what turned out to be the deciding Game 6 of the Caps' second-round series with Pittsburgh last season, and he earned an assist on Alex Chiasson's goal, the first tally of that game. The Caps won it 2-1 in overtime on Evgeny Kuznetsov's game-winner, a goal that propelled them into the Eastern Conference final for the first time in two decades.
If the Caps make it through Saturday's season finale unscathed by injury, Walker is likely to be returned to Hershey, where the Bears' strong second half surge has them on the verge of clinching a berth in the Calder Cup playoffs. But it was great to see him here on Saturday, and it sounds like he figures in Washington's contingency plans for the impending playoff run.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | April 6
In The Nets - Pheonix Copley will get the start for the Caps on Saturday, as Braden Holtby will get the night off two nights after backstopping the Capitals to a fourth straight Metro Division title with a 33-save effort against Montreal.
Copley started the Caps' final road game of the season this past Monday night in Florida, a 5-3 Washington setback that halted the goaltender's personal six-game winning streak. Copley will be making his first career appearance against the Islanders on Saturday. Since the All-Star break, he is 6-1-0 with a 2.83 GAA and a .908 save pct.
We're expecting to see Robin Lehner in net for the Islanders. Lehner has recorded career bests in wins (24), GAA (2.18) and save pct. (.928) this season, in helping the Isles engineer an improbable worst-to-first turnaround in goals against for New York, the first in the league in a century.
The Caps have yet to face Lehner this season; Thomas Greiss got the net for New York in each of the three previous meetings between the two Metro rivals this season. Lifetime against the Capitals, Lehner is 1-3-1 with a 2.60 GAA and a .913 save pct. in five career appearances.
All Lined Up - This is how we expect the Caps and the Islanders to look when they meet on Saturday night in the District for the regular season finale for both sides:
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 10-Connolly
13-Vrana, 72-Boyd, 23-Jaskin
18-Stephenson, 26-Dowd, 65-Burakovsky
6-Kempny (lower body)
27-Lee, 13-Barzal, 7-Eberle
12-Bailey, 29-Nelson, 28-Dal Colle
18-Beauvillier, 51-Filppula, 47-Komarov
17-Martin, 53-Cizikas, 15-Clutterbuck