The Capitals enter play Wednesday with a record 13 games over .500. Their point total of 65 would be tied for fourth-highest in the Western Conference and, if they were in the Pacific Division, they would be just one point behind the Calgary Flames for the top spot.
Instead, Washington resides in the East where four of the NHL’s five teams with at least 70 points call home. The Capitals currently find themselves sitting fourth in the Metropolitan Division, placing them in a Wild Card spot that would match them up with a division winner in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs should the standings hold.
“It does get a little bit frustrating,” head coach Peter Laviolette told 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday of the Capitals’ place in the standings. “You look at our group and we’re a top-10 team in the league but yet we’re in a Wild Card spot. We should’ve played better — there’s games I think that we haven’t played to our potential from Jan. 1 on and things that we’re addressing to try and become more consistent with that — but…we gotta keep working and pushing and try to move up.”
As things stand, the Capitals are looking up at the Carolina Hurricanes (74 points), Pittsburgh Penguins (70) and New York Rangers (69) in the Metro with 30 games to go. The Florida Panthers (75), Tampa Bay Lightning (70) and Toronto Maple Leafs (68) round out the top three in the Atlantic, all boasting better point totals than Washington.
With a 12-point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets (53) for the final playoff spot, the Capitals aren’t in any danger of missing the playoffs unless they suffer an epic collapse. Yet the Boston Bruins (62) hold the second Wild Card spot and they trail Washington by just three points. Any further slippage in the standings would mean the Capitals’ first playoff opponent is the top team in the East.
Laviolette isn’t worried about who the Capitals might face, he just wants to ensure the team is ready when the postseason begins.
“I don’t think it matters who we play in the playoffs,” Laviolette said. “If you look at the teams, the Rangers are having a really good year. Carolina has been a top team the entire year and Pittsburgh has been always a tough opponent. So no matter what you get in the first round, it’s gonna be a good one.”