The regular season may be almost over, but there is still a lot left to be decided. One thing we now know for sure, however, is that the Capitals will have home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
Though they currently sit in first place in the Metropolitan Division, the standings were so close together that it was still possible for Washington to be passed by both the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins which would drop them to third and give their opponent home ice in the first round. With the Penguins’ 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, that is no longer the case. Pittsburgh cannot catch the Caps which guarantees Washington will finish no worse than second and will have home-ice advantage at least in the first round.
Home ice was ultimately not the biggest factor in the Cup run last season as the Caps won only six of their 11 home games. They won 10 out of 13 on the road. This year, however, it could prove to be vitally important.
Home teams get the second line change meaning coaches get to see which players their opponent puts on the ice. This gives them an advantage as it allows the home coach to dictate matchups. That is important for a team that will be without one of its top defensemen in Michal Kempny.
It was announced on Tuesday that Kempny will miss the entire 2019 postseason after undergoing surgery to repair a torn hamstring. Kempny was playing alongside John Carlson on the Caps’ top defensive pair prior to the injury. With him gone, head coach Todd Reirden has used a platoon approach to replace him, playing multiple players alongside Carlson throughout the game as the situation dictates.
Being able to determine matchups in those home games could prove to be a critical advantage in the early rounds as the team continues to adjust to Kempny’s absence.
After Tuesday’s action, Washington’s possible playoff opponent shifted as well with the Carolina Hurricanes overtaking the Columbus Blue Jackets for the first wild card spot.
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