The Washington Capitals have 32 games left in the 2023-24 season. Entering February 10th, they had less than a 10% chance to make the playoffs according to HockeyViz. They also have the second-most difficult remaining schedule according to Tankathon. They’ll play three of their strongest remaining opponents before the end of this month. The outcomes of the next handful of games will impact General Manager’s Brian MacLellan‘s approach to the trade deadline less than a month away. Washington will start the next week by hosting the Vancouver Canucks, the Western Conference’s leader. With all that said about the future, here is the Washington Capitals weekly updates for February 4th to 10th.
Washington Capitals Weekly Updates: February 4-10
The Capitals struggled in their first two games back from the All-Star break. Washington’s losing streak reached six, its season-worst. Then they faced the top team in the NHL and played their “most complete game of the season” as coach Spencer Carbery described it postgame. Alex Ovechkin now has 15 points in his last 14 games, including goals in four consecutive games. He scored an empty-net goal Saturday to become the NHL’s all-time leader at scoring into an open cage.
They faced Montreal–a team with about half Washington’s chance to qualify for the postseason–on the 6th, and lost 5-2. Both Nick Suzuki and Juraj Slafkovsky scored twice. It was the fourth game in a row the Capitals allowed at least one player to score multiple times. Suzuki’s two goals game in less than a minute of action. Ovechkin scored with Washington down 3-0 in the second period. Slafkovsky sandwiched his two goals around a strike from Rasmus Sandin. Slafkovsky’s second goal of the game was on the power play.
Washington visited the Florida Panthers on the 10th for the first half of the team’s annual Mentors’ Trip. Ovechkin, whose father passed away nearly a year ago, scored on the power play to give Washington its first lead since January 27th. Three goals in the second period–one from Anthony Mantha between strikes from Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart for Florida–put the teams at a 2-2 tie heading into the final 20 minutes. Florida took 16 shots on goal in the third period and scored twice for a 4-2 Panthers victory.
The Capitals played in Boston on Saturday afternoon. Unlike the last half-dozen games, Washington was consistently the stronger team. Less than 10 minutes in, Washington held a 5-0 advantage in shots on goal. At the end of the period, neither team had scored but Washington had out-shot the Bruins 15-4. Late in the first period, Matt Grzelcyk speared Max Pacioretty between the legs. After official review, he received a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct. Early in the middle frame, T.J. Oshie scored on Washington’s extended power play. Dylan Strome and Ovechkin added goals and Charlie Lindgren stopped all 18 shots from Boston for a 3-0 win.
Illness & Injury
The Washington Capitals are finally getting most of their players off the injured list. Forward Sonny Milano, who has been on injured reserve since December 14th and had been practicing with a non-contact jersey for a month, returned to full-contact practice participation this week. However there is still no update on when he could return to the lineup. Pacioretty, who left the ice early in Dallas, returned to the lineup without issue after the break. Trevor van Riemsdyk came down with an illness before the game in Florida, and didn’t get to face his brother James in Boston either.
Off-Ice Washington Capitals Updates
The most impactful piece of news for the team this week came off the ice. Centre Evgeny Kuznetsov did not practice on the 5th, and later that day the Capitals shared that he had entered the NHLPA’s Player Assistance Program. He is one of several players to make use of the service this season. Washington recalled Michael Sgarbossa from their AHL affiliate to fill Kuznetsov’s place in the lineup.
As mentioned up top, the trade deadline is in less than a month. During ESPN’s coverage of the game in Boston, Emily Kaplan reported that Brian MacLellan would decide what to do at the deadline based on the results of that game and the next two matchups, against Western powerhouses Vancouver and Colorado. Several Capitals players have been mentioned as potentially moving between now and March 8th.
Possible Trade Bait
Kaplan specifically mentioned defensemen Joel Edmundson has “a lot of interest around the league.” Edmundson is 31 and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. The Capitals acquired him from Montreal during the offseason in return for two 2024 draft picks. Montreal also retained half Edmundson’s salary in the transaction.
Late last month, fourth line centre Nic Dowd was named as a potential target for trades. Dowd is a regular penalty-killer, averaging a career-high 2:35 of shorthanded ice time per game. Only Beck Malenstyn, also a fourth liner, has spent more time penalty killing for Washington among the forwards. Dowd takes the most defensive faceoffs per 60 minutes of any Capitals player; the entire fourth line starts less than 10% of its shifts in the offensive zone.
Even before the start of the season, Anthony Mantha was expected to be open for inquiries from other teams. Mantha’s play this season has increased his value. Max Pacioretty has also been reported to be available. Though his contract includes a full no-movement clause, Pierre LeBrun wrote on Friday that Pacioretty might waive it if the Capitals are able to arrange a trade with a contending team.
Main photo by: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
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