With 14 games remaining in the regular season, there is still plenty left to be decided before the playoffs. But Sunday’s game between the Capitals and Winnipeg Jets (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) presents both teams with an opportunity to send a message with an eye towards the postseason.
The Jets came within one round of playing the Caps in the Stanley Cup Final last season before Winnipeg was defeated by the Vegas Golden Knights in the conference final. Both teams again look poised for another possible lengthy postseason run.
Washington obviously is the defending Stanley Cup champions and seem to be getting hot at the right time again with six straight wins. The additions of Carl Hagelin and Nick Jensen at the trade deadline have provided an instant boost to the team and the Caps seem to be rounding into playoff form yet again.
The Jets come to Washington on Sunday as leaders of the Central Division. Blake Wheeler is putting together another monster season with 83 points, good for ninth in the NHL. Alex Ovechkin may lead the league in goals with 46, but Winnipeg still has plenty of offensive weapons with Mark Scheifele who has 32 goals and Patrik Laine who, even in a down year has still managed to hit the back of the net 29 times. Those two have helped the Jets score 3.43 goals per game this season, good for fifth in the NHL and higher than Washington’s 3.38.
If you had any doubts about how good Winnipeg is, check out Friday’s game in which the Jets obliterated the Carolina Hurricanes, one of the hottest teams in the NHL, 8-1.
A win on Sunday would be a strong statement that they remain one of the teams to beat in the West. They also have an easier road through the first two rounds of the playoffs in the Central over the Pacific. It at least seems possible that Sunday’s game could prove to be a preview of this year’s Stanley Cup Final.
There are no changes in the lineup for Sunday’s game, but that is no surprise after winning six straight. Should Washington win, it will tie a season-long seven-game streak.
There is just one change to the lineup and it comes between the pipes….
Copley is expected to start Sunday giving him his first start since Feb. 24. This will be the second time Copley has played against the Jets this season as he also started in Winnipeg on Nov. 14. Braden Holtby was expected to get that start but was injured forcing Washington to dress an emergency backup. Copley allowed two goals on 23 shots in the losing effort.
“We had to, at some point, make a decision of when to play Pheonix, and we think that tonight's the right night with the week we have ahead of use as well,” Todd Reirden said. “We're at home, and I hope that our team can play a little bit of a better team game than we did against New Jersey to give him some support. I think it's the right time."
An offensive explosion
The Jets obliterated one of the hottest teams in the NHL on Friday with an 8-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. “That was a pretty impressive performance against a team that’s had a really strong run here and is really distinguishing themselves as being one of the top teams in the East with Carolina,” Todd Reirden said. “That was a statement. If you were wondering how good they were, that was a strong statement.”
Even with Winnipeg’s offensive explosion, however, the Caps are not approaching this game any differently defensively.
“I wouldn’t have even known they scored eight goals,” T.J. Oshie said. “It wasn’t talked about today.”
No time for retribution
Oshie was injured the last time the Caps played the Jets as he was slammed down to the ice by defenseman Josh Morrissey. Morrissey was fined but avoided a suspension for the play. The Jets defenseman is injured and not expected to play on Sunday, but if he had it does not sound like it would have mattered much to Oshie.
“This is the time where your focus has to be on winning and winning a certain way,” Oshie said, “So that will be our main focus. I’ll be around six more years at least so there’s plenty of time if there ever is going to be one to take a shot or try to get even or whatever you want to call it. Right now is the wrong time. Right now we’re trying to get ourselves to a certain point in the standings and we’re trying to get our game to a certain level so that’ll be our main focus.”
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