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Capitals' playoff opponent watch: Toronto jumps into wild card

Capitals' playoff opponent watch: Toronto jumps into wild card

In the final stretch of the season, it’s time to start projecting possible first round matchups for the Caps.

Washington still finds itself in a tight race for the top of the Metropolitan Division, but the Caps look like their are back on track after a recent slump and still hold first place.

As of right now the Caps would be playing: The Toronto Maple Leafs (81 points)

Caps’ record vs. Islanders this season: 1-1-0 (1 game remaining on April 4)

It’s hard to know what to expect from a young team like the Leafs when they reach the postseason. Toronto is way ahead of schedule with its rebuild and were not expected to reach the playoffs this year. Plus, with Mike Babcock behind the bench, this is a dangerous team. But considering the youth that makes up the roster, you have to expect them to hit the wall at some point. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Nikita Zaitsev, the young rookies that make up the core of his team have never played in an 82-game season before and there is no more physically grueling hockey league than the NHL. Sure, should the Leafs make the playoffs, they will be playing with house money and should be very loose, but how much will they really have left in the tank for a seven-game series?

RELATED: Shattenkirk still looking for first goal as a Cap after scoring change

Other possible playoff opponents

Pittsburgh Penguins (101 points)

Caps record vs. Penguins this season: 2-0-2

If you hated the NHL’s current playoff format before, just wait if we see a Washington-Pittsburgh series in the first round. We are headed for a photo finish in the Metropolitan Division between the Caps, Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets. The two teams that lose that race will get to face one another in the first round. While the Caps have earned at least a point in each game against the Penguins this season, you can go ahead and throw the record out when it comes to these two teams. As difficult as it is to comprehend just how these two teams could open the playoffs against one another, this perhaps would not be the worst thing in the world. The Penguins are not a healthy team right now as they are dealing with several injuries to key players. For my money, however, I think the Caps would be better off watching Pittsburgh get further beaten up in a series with Columbus and then face the winner.

Columbus Blue Jackets (100 points)

Caps record vs. Blue Jackets this season: 1-1-1 (2 games remaining on March 23 and April 2)

If the Penguins do win the Metropolitan Division, Washington will face a John Tortorella-led Blue Jackets team. Columbus is not as good as they looked when they won 16 straight games earlier in the season, a win streak that was broken by the Caps in a 5-0 blowout, but to their credit they have kept pace with Washington and Pittsburgh to stay within striking distance of the top spot in the Metro. The biggest concern is goalie Sergei Bobrovsky who is making a case for the Vezina or the Hart with this play. He has a .931 save percentage and 2.04 GAA and is more than capable of leading the Blue Jackets deep into the playoffs.

Boston Bruins (82 points)

Caps’ record vs. Bruins this season: 2-0-0 (1 game remaining on April 8)

Boston is still clinging to third place in the Atlantic for now, but Toronto is hot on its heels and could well overtake the Bruins. Boston has lost three straight including a loss to the Leafs who could push the Bruins down into the wild card. This is not a wild card team to sleep on, however, as they boast one of the top offensive players and agitators in the NHL in Brad Marchand and a top netminder in Tuukka Rask.

New York Islanders (78 points)

Caps’ record vs. Islanders this season: 2-3-0

The Islanders have finally lost their grip on the wild card spot. They have lost four of their last five and it looks like the honeymoon period between the team and interim coach Doug Weight is now over. Does a team that looked like one of the worst in the Eastern Conference for much of the season have enough steam to battle back into the wild card?

Tampa Bay Lightning (77 points)

Caps’ record vs. Lighting this season: 2-0-1

At last week’s update, the Lightning had 77 points. This week: 77 points. Not good. With three straight losses including a home loss to the woeful Arizona Coyotes, it appears the injuries have finally caught up to Tampa. They now trail Toronto by four points and the Leafs hold a game in hand so this matchup now seems unlikely.

MORE CAPITALS: Ovechkin will wear custom painted skates Thursday

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3 Caps who impressed in the preseason opener vs. Chicago: Take a bow, Aliaksei Protas

3 Caps who impressed in the preseason opener vs. Chicago: Take a bow, Aliaksei Protas

WASHINGTON -- Hockey made its long-awaited return to Capital One Arena on Monday as the Capitals opened their preseason slate with a 4-3 overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Tom Wilson was the best player on either bare-bones roster and he scored the overtime winner.

Besides Wilson, here are the players who impressed on Monday.

Aliaksei Protas

Protas already stands out because of his size at 6-foot-6. It was his play that stood out during the game, however, as Protas was the best player of the night for Washington.

Playing in the high slot on the power play, Protas took a pass from Christian Djoos. Chicago’s penalty kill box collapsed around him and he calmly backhanded a pass to a wide-open Travis Boyd who ripped the shot past goalie Collin Delia.

Less than two minutes later, Protas took the puck from behind the Caps’ net and started the breakout. He passed off the puck then made a beeline down the ice. When he saw Beck Malenstyn grab the puck along the boards, he headed to the front of the net and was there when Delia lost control of the puck to get the goal.

In addition, Protas recorded an assist on the overtime winner and was impressive for his all-around play. He forced Chicago to the neutral zone with a poke check on the blue line out of the defensive zone and he recorded two blocked shots.

Christian Djoos

The Capitals will need to cut salary early in the season to get under the salary cap and to many, Djoos looked like a possible candidate to be headed out of Washington. He did what he could on Monday, however, to show he should stick around.

Djoos does not typically get much power-play time during the regular season -- he had a grand total of 3:15 power-play TOI in 45 games last season -- but he got plenty of it on Monday and he looked right at home. He was good holding the blue line with the extra man and distributed the puck well from the point. He was rewarded with a secondary assist when he fed Protas in the high-slot in the second period.

Djoos, however, needed to show more than his prowess on the power play -- where he likely will not get much time again this season -- and he did that with an overall solid effort on defense. He outplayed his counterpart, Jonas Siegenthaler, whose place on the team seems all but assured. The only of Chicago’s three goals Djoos was on the ice for was Adam Boqvist’s wicked shot off the post and in and there was nothing anyone could do about that one whether it was Djoos, John Carlson or Bobby Orr.

Beck Malenstyn

If Malenstyn has a future in the NHL, it will be as a fourth-liner. He gave a glimpse of what he had to offer at that NHL level in this game with his high-energy play.

Malenstyn was relentless on the forecheck and looked like he was in constant search of something to hit every time he was on the ice. He was also great on the penalty kill and recorded an assist on Protas’ goal when he flung the puck at the net from the sideboards.

Malenstyn is not going to be a top-six NHL player. He’s not going to put up 20-30 goals. What he can provide, he showed on Monday and it was exactly what you want from a fourth-liner.

Honorable mention: Connor McMichael had the play of the game with his no-look backhand pass to set-up Damien Riat for Washington’s first goal fo the game. His overall game was solid with one assist, two shots on goal and another two attempts blocked.

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Capital One Arena has a new bag policy. Here's what you need to know

Capital One Arena has a new bag policy. Here's what you need to know

Capital One Arena announced Friday they have initiated a new bag policy for the upcoming Capitals and Georgetown basketball season.

The biggest change includes a firm no backpacks policy. No matter the size, any kind of backpack will not be allowed in the arena, and luggage, roller bags, hard-sided bags/briefcases and bags larger than 14" long, 14" tall, and 6" wide are still prohibited.

Diaper bags and medical bags will be allowed into the arena but will need to be searched first.

Additionally, the arena will now have a no bags and express line at the F Street entrance for guests who are not carrying bags or are carrying a clutch or purse smaller than 4.5"x 6.5".

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