The 2021 schedule is going to look much different than a normal year and it's not just because there will only be 56 games. In order to account for the closed border between the United States and Canada, the NHL realigned the divisions for the season to put all seven Canadian teams in their own division. For the season, each team will only play teams within the division so while we may not know the exact schedule, we know all seven of Washington's opponents.
Here is how the Caps fared against their new East Division opponents in 2019-20.
2-1-0 against the Boston Bruins
The start of the season was typical Washington dominance over Boston. That's not a shot at the Bruins, it's just a fact that the Caps have dominated Boston for several years. After winning the first two matchups, the Bruins handed Washington a loss that proved to be the turning point of the season, a 7-3 blowout on Dec. 23. The Caps never looked right after that game.
Boston returns much of the same offensive superstars, plus a strong goalie tandem of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. The defense, however, is a major question mark.
1-0-1 against the Buffalo Sabres
Washington's last game of the regular season turned out to be a shootout loss to Buffalo on March 9.
The Sabres are a team that, for years, have looked better on paper than on the ice. With the continued breakout of Jack Eichel and the signing of Taylor Hall, however, they could make some noise and make a real push for the playoffs. As of now, I see them on the outside of the playoffs looking in, but I consider Buffalo to very much be a dark horse to reach the postseason.
2-2-0 against the New Jersey Devils
The Caps' two wins against New Jersey were very comfortable as they came by a combined score of 11-5. But the losses were alarming. A struggling New Jersey trounced the Caps 5-1 in Washington and the Caps could not even muster enough momentum out of Alex Ovechkin's 700th goal to avoid a 3-2 loss in New Jersey in February.
The Devils remain an up-and-coming team and look like the obvious pick for last in the division.
2-2-0 against the New York Islanders
Yes, the Caps split the season series, but what really mattered was the Islanders taking Washington to the woodshed in the playoffs, winning their series in just five games.
1-1-1 against the New York Rangers
Mika Zibanejad scored five goals in a single game to hand Washington an overtime loss. Now his Rangers will add No. 1 overall draft pick Alexis Lafreniere to an already up-and-coming team that is starting to look poised to break out of its rebuild and back into the playoffs.
1-3-0 against the Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers were one of the hottest teams in the NHL when the regular season was paused. The pause was the only thing that preserved the division title for Washington because Philadelphia absolutely would have passed them. They proved to be a horrific matchup in the regular season for the Caps.
I like the Flyers as regular-season team, but I question how far they can make in the playoffs. I think this team is built for regular-season success, but is not a championship team by any stretch unless Carter Hart carries them there on his shoulders.
2-1-0 against the Pittsburgh Penguins
Washington's first game against the Penguins in 2019-20 did not come until February, well after the Caps' precipitous decline. The only team they seemed to get up for and play well against by that point was Pittsburgh, though that may have had something to do with how much the Penguins were struggling as well. Washington was impressive in all three games against their rival.
Pittsburgh and Caps look to be in similar situations, veteran teams holding onto the last few moments of their championship window. I think Washington is in a better place than Pittsburgh, however, thanks to better management by Brian MacLellan. Penguins GM Jimmy Rutherford likes making bold moves and people love him for it, but for the last several years he's been grasping at straws and most of his big trades have been complete busts.
Total record: 11-10-2
Projected record out of 56 games: 27-24-5
Washington is going to have to do better than that to reach the postseason. I very much doubt a near .500 record will be enough to get the Caps into the top four in the East.