shavings flyers

Just One Victory – Eighty-one games deep into the 2023-24 NHL regular season, the Caps are one of four teams still battling it out for the final available Stanley Cup playoff berth, the second wild card slot in the Eastern Conference. Heading into tonight’s regular season finale in Philadelphia against the Flyers – another one of those four teams seeking that final berth – the Caps are firmly in control of their playoff fate.

If they win tonight, they’re in the playoffs.

“It’s been the character of the group since October,” says Caps’ coach Spencer Carbery. “Just finding ways to win in all different ways. And you could go back through the 81 [previous games], and even early in the year, even when we were trying to find our footing, and then we got some wins. I even think of our first win here against Calgary [six months ago to the day, on April 16], when we were under siege; they must have had 45 shots, and we found a way to grind that one out, winning in the shootout.

“There are so many different moments where this team has shown its true character throughout this year of finding different ways to win. And, as well, when our backs were against the wall and our season was on the brink in multiple situations – post [trade] deadline, we moved some guys out – easy for our group to say, ‘You know what? It’s been a great run. We’re not going for it this year, so we’ll just ride off into the sunset.’ And it wasn’t even close to that. Our guys were like, ‘We’re going to find a way, and we’ll just focus on the next game, and the next game.’

“So, they deserve a ton of credit, and we’re staying in this fight. We’ve got one more to go.”

The Caps have overcome quite a bit over the course of those previous 81, and they’ve played some really good hockey in going 3-1-1 over their past five games to get to this point. They’ve been playing what is essentially playoff hockey for weeks now.

“We knew it was going to be a hard year; we knew we were going to have to grind it out, not necessarily to the very last game, but it’s exciting,” says Caps’ right wing Tom Wilson. “For us, these games over the last few weeks and couple of months are taking on a playoff identity. And that’s great for experience for our young guys; it’s great for everybody. It’s one of those things where if you do get in, you’ve already flipped that switch and you’re already in that playoff mode right now, so it can help you out.”

Washington is expected to run out the same lineup that prevailed over the Bruins in D.C. last night, with the only question mark being left wing Beck Malenstyn, who left the game in the second period after taking a high hit from Boston’s Trent Frederic. Carbery says that Malenstyn will be a game-time decision tonight. If he is unable to go – and he has played in 80 of the previous 81 games this season – Mike Sgarbossa would likely step in for him.

All The Young Dudes – In Monday night’s 2-0 win over Boston, the Caps played without two of their top three defensemen in Rasmus Sandin (lower body) and Nick Jensen (upper body). But they got the usual 29-plus minutes from warhorse John Carlson – who has been playing magnificent hockey during this stretch drive, 26 minutes from Martin Fehervary, a third straight game over 21 minutes from Alex Alexeyev and 20 minutes from Trevor van Riemsdyk, who is playing on his off side with two righties – Vincent Iorio and Dylan McIlrath – up from Hershey to fill in for the injured duo.

Ahead of the March 8 trade deadline, the Caps dealt away a trio of regular players with more than 1,700 combined games worth of NHL experience, replacing them with less experienced players from AHL Hershey. The Caps’ climb to the cusp of a playoff berth has been fueled largely by the netminding heroics of Charlie Lindgren, the steadiness, consistency and reliability of Carlson, and the second half offensive resurgence of Alex Ovechkin.

But Washington’s roster is currently dotted with eight players from Hershey’s 2023 Calder Cup championship run, and those players have had a hand in some big wins throughout the course of the campaign, too. They’re benefiting from being around Washington’s grizzled veteran core, who are there to help steer them through momentum swings and the like as these high leverage late season games play out.

“There are moments in the game that are important,” says Wilson. “And if you feel the game starting to tilt the wrong way, making a few plays, working for each other, helping each other get out of that just to tilt the ice back our way is massively important at this time of year.

“Hockey is such a game of momentum swings, that if it is going the other way, you’ve got to end it as quick as possible. I think we’re getting better at that. I think we’re realizing that there are a lot of little plays that add up to the result of the game, whether it’s getting a stick in front of the net, whether it’s boxing out, or whether it’s backchecking. All those little things add up at this time of year, and you’ve got to be focused, and you’ve got to have a high rate of execution. We know what our game looks like when we’re playing well, and we’ve just got to make sure that our last couple of games, that’s what we’re striving for, and what we’re doing.”

Everyone who gets to the NHL knows how to play the game. But they’re also capable of learning the nuances and finer points that go into separating the winners from the losers at the end of the night. With four teams separated by a single point still battling for one final playoff berth, anyone can see there isn’t much margin for error on a night-to-night basis in the NHL, and every little detail can make a difference. That’s why veterans often say something if they see something.

“I think that comes from everywhere,” says Carlson. “It comes from your teammates and how they are going about their business, it’s the coaching staff, it’s the feeling in the room. There’s a lot of variables, but I kind of liked being young and being unafraid. They are a little blind to what’s at stake in some instances, and that’s a great thing and you can use that to your advantage. But certainly, we’ve got plenty of veterans in the room to call it how it is and to communicate out of any problems that do come up.

“Like I always say, everybody in here is capable of being in here, whether guys got injured to give someone else an opportunity doesn’t matter; you still belong and you still can contribute to the team in a great way. And that’s what we expect from each other.”

Put Some Miles On – A trio of stalwart Caps veterans have reached significant games played milestones as we get to the end of the regular season. Last night against Boston, Max Pacioretty skated in his 900th career NHL game, and van Riemsdyk pulled on the blades for the 600th time at this level. And tonight in Philadelphia, Caps’ center Nic Dowd – one of many heroes in the consecutive victories that have brought the Caps to this “win and you’re in” stage of the season – skates in his 500th career NHL contest.

Along with Ovechkin, Pacioretty is one of only two current NHL players who played in Carlson’s debut on Nov. 20, 2009. A first-round pick in 2007, Pacioretty would have already passed the 1,000-game threshold himself if not for a series of injuries over the last few seasons.

Dowd is the longest tenured Capital aside from the dwindling number of remaining players from the 2018 Stanley Cup championship squad; he is finishing up his sixth season with the team and has skated in 368 of his 499 games with Washington.

Nine years ago at this time, van Riemsdyk was a rookie defenseman on Chicago’s 2015 Stanley Cup championship team. Now, he’s a veteran in his 10th season, who is being deployed on his off side as a partner for 21-year-old rookie blueliner Vincent Iorio, who is expected to skate in his ninth NHL game tonight in Philadelphia.

“It’s crazy,” says van Riemsdyk. “And our team now is kind of built like that Chicago team I was on. Back in the day, there wasn’t too many guys with less than 100 games played, maybe me and [Teuvo] Teravainen. They had their veteran core and they’d bring in veteran guys, because they knew they were going to be in the playoffs.

“They had some young guys step in along the way – [Artemi] Panarin came in and he was awesome – but it feels like yesterday, looking back on those Chicago years, and feeling like you’re so young and it’s so fresh. Then when I got traded to Carolina, that team was super young, compared to the Chicago team. And then I come here, and it’s a super veteran team here, and it’s great.

“For the point where I am in my life, to be on a veteran team is good, especially the stuff away from the rink. Everyone’s got kids, and I just had my first one, and it’s nice to be in the same boat with everyone else.

“But on the hockey side, it’s great being on a veteran team like this that knows how to play in big games and has been in a lot of them. It’s exciting to know when you go into these kinds of games that you have the Oshies, and the Carlsons and the Ovechkins on your squad, all guys who have shown up in those big games.”

In The Nets – Lindgren gets the net tonight for Washington, which isn’t surprising. But it has become more and more unusual for teams to deploy the same starter for both ends of a set of back-to-backs in the modern NHL. Carbery was asked about his decision to go with Lindgren, who is also starting his third game in four nights, and he is starting for the 12th time in Washington’s last 13 games; those 13 games have been played in a tight span of 25 nights.

“I would just say this,” begins Carbery. “We came to the same conclusion that we have over the last four or five games, when our season has been sort of on the brink: Chucky has arguably been our most valuable player, he’s the reason we’re in the spot we are, or a large reason why we’re in this spot. For us, and for the way he has played, he has earned this opportunity to play the last game of the season, where our chips are in the middle of the table.”

In his last five starts, Lindgren is 3-1-1 with a shutout, a 1.81 GAA and a .931 save pct. Lifetime against the Flyers, he is 2-0-2 with a shutout, a 1.45 GAA and a .949 save pct. in four appearances, all starts.

Samuel Ersson is the likely starter for Philly. He enters tonight’s game with consecutive victories, and is also coming off a shutout (vs. New Jersey) in his most recent start. Ersson has stopped 44 of 45 shots in his last two starts.

Lifetime against Washington, he is 1-1-0 with a 3.45 GAA and an .843 save pct. in two appearances, both starts.

All Lined Up – Here’s how the Caps and Flyers might look when they take the ice on Tuesday night in Philly for the regular season finale for both clubs:



8-Ovechkin, 17-Strome, 43-Wilson

21-Protas, 24-McMichael, 77-Oshie

67-Pacioretty, 29-Lapierre, 15-Milano

47-Malenstyn, 26-Dowd, 96-Aubé-Kubel


42-Fehervary, 74-Carlson

57-van Riemsdyk, 2-Iorio

27-Alexeyev, 52-McIlrath





3-Jensen (upper body)

19-Backstrom (lower body)

25-Bear (NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program)

38-Sandin (upper body)







71-Foerster, 25-Poehling, 11-Konecny

74-Tippett, 48-Frost, 10-Brink

27-Cates, 14-Couturier, 19-Hathaway

86-Farabee, 21-Laughton, 89-Atkinson


8-York, 6-Sanheim

24-Seeler, 9-Drysdale

5-Zamula, 77-Johnson





55-Ristolainen (upper body)

79-Hart (personal)

94-Ellis (back)