Saturday’s game features two teams at the opposite end of the standings. The Washington Capitals have their sights set squarely on the Stanley Cup as the top team in the NHL. With only 63 points, the Arizona Coyotes have their sights set squarely on the golf course as their season will soon be over.
After the Caps played in arguably their biggest game of the season on Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, you could forgive the fans for overlooking Saturday’s contest against the scuffling Coyotes.
Barry Trotz, however, is not.
“Looking at all nine of these games, until we can secure our spot that we would like, they're all must-wins,” Trotz said after Saturday’s morning skate. “I can't tell you one that would not be.”
Washington is in the midst of a three-team battle for supremacy of the Metropolitan Division. Losing means a difficult first-round matchup against either Columbus or the Pittsburgh Penguins. To win that race, the Caps will need all the points they can get.
That means there’s a lot more at stake in a Washington-Arizona game than one might think. The challenge is conveying that to the players.
“These ones, when you're playing a team that you feel is young and maybe not as experienced, you worry about the readiness,” Trotz said. “But I think we recognize the situation. It will be on the players. We're going to give them a real good scout on Arizona. We're going to put the team on the ice to play Arizona and play them hard and respect them and that will be our message. Go after them.”
Washington holds only a one-point and three-point lead over Pittsburgh and Columbus in the standings, respectively. They hold a game in hand over the Penguins while Columbus will play the Philadelphia Flyers earlier on Saturday.
A game against the Coyotes may not be the sexiest matchup for a team that has already qualified for the playoffs, but if the Caps hope to finish atop the Metro, they cannot afford to leave two points on the table at home against an Arizona team with only one win in its last four games.
Said Trotz, “We have no room to let anybody steal any points in our arena at any time right now.”
MORE CAPITALS: Justin Williams asks Twitter for picture day hair advice