A late-season slide could end up costing the Washington Capitals a playoff spot. A loss to the worst team in the Metropolitan Division almost certainly would.
With roughly one week left in the regular season, the sinking Capitals continue their playoff push Saturday against a New York Islanders team relishing the spoiler role.
After a 4-0-1 stretch put it back in the thick of the playoff race, Washington has proceeded to lose five straight, including Friday’s 2-1 defeat to New Jersey in the opener of a four-game trip. Alex Ovechkin scored his league-leading 49th goal midway through the first period, but the Capitals (34-30-13) were shut out the rest of the way by Cory Schneider.
”It’s obviously difficult to swallow the loss. We played a good game, had a lot of Grade A chances (and) their goalie made some great saves,” coach Adam Oates said.
The five-game skid is the team’s longest since a season-high seven-game slide Jan. 12-24. The latest loss dropped Washington behind the Devils into 11th in the Eastern Conference, four points behind Columbus for the second wild card with five games remaining.
”Yeah, definitely,” Nicklas Backstrom said when asked if he thought Washington had to run the table in order to qualify for the playoffs. ”I think the best chance for us is to win every game.”
Ovechkin’s goal was his first even-strength point in 17 games. His next goal will give him five 50-goal seasons. Only Mike Bossy (9), Wayne Gretzky (9), Guy Lafleur (6), Marcel Dionne (6) and Mario Lemieux (6) have more.
Washington’s superstar hasn’t received much help from his teammates lately. Backstrom has one goal in 11 games, Marcus Johansson has none in 15 and Joel Ward has gone six straight contests without scoring.
Jaroslav Halak dropped to 0-2-3 in his last five starts after making 31 saves Friday. He could be rested in favor of Braden Holtby, who has posted a .955 save percentage during a three-game win streak against New York.
The Islanders (31-35-10) have already been eliminated from playoff contention, but they haven’t let that affect their play lately. They’ve won three in a row and are 5-0-1 in their last six games despite missing leading scorer Kyle Okposo (upper body), captain John Tavares (torn MCL), forward Michael Grabner (concussion) and defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky (upper body) and Brian Strait (hand).
Josh Bailey had a goal and an assist for the second straight night, and Anders Nilsson stopped 35 shots as New York dealt a damaging blow to Ottawa’s playoff hopes with a 2-1 victory Wednesday.
That followed recent wins over Columbus and New Jersey.
”We battled hard and everyone stuck up for each other," Nilsson said. "Everybody is doing a hell of a job and battling hard and that’s why we keep on winning.”
Although they’ve won three straight and four of five at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders’ 13 home wins are tied with Buffalo for a league low.
Evgeni Nabokov, who has allowed four goals in his last three starts, is 13-2-3 with a 2.19 goals-against average lifetime against the Capitals.
The Capitals won the first two meetings this season before Nabokov stopped 22 shots in the Islanders’ 1-0 road victory Feb. 4. Ovechkin has three goals and an assist in the season series while Backstrom has a goal and four points.