Capitals and Winnipeg Face Off With Huge Playoff Implications: A Fan’s Prevew

There was a time when a trip to Winnipeg/Atlanta for a game meant an easy two points for the Washington Capitals. Their opponent always seemed disorganized or uninterested, leading to Caps victories more times than not. In 2012, that is no longer the case. The Winnipeg Jets have created a home atmosphere that rivals few others, and it has led them to a remarkable 22-10-4 at their place. The Capitals will face this daunting task on March 16.

Winnipeg has become a playoff contender, sitting only four points out of the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The team currently holding that spot is the Washington Capitals, who come in winners of four in a row. The Jets can tout a streak of their own, having won three consecutive home contests. Those victories came over playoff contenders Florida, Buffalo, and Dallas. This group is no longer a pushover.

The teams have split four games thus far, with each stealing a victory in the other team's rink. Power plays will be a key point in this contest. Washington has been susceptible to the power play, and Winnipeg has taken advantage of that during their victories against the Caps. The Capitals gave up no power play markers in the two games they took from Winnipeg this season. In the losses, Washington allowed Winnipeg to score at a fifty percent clip, giving up four goals in eight attempts.

Washington must focus on avoiding taking stupid penalties. The Capitals gave the N.Y. Islanders five power plays and let them convert two on March 13. The Caps must avoid giving the Jets easy opportunities like this. It would also behoove the Caps to pressure Winnipeg early and try to get the early lead. If they can do that, perhaps it will take the crowd out of it a bit. No team has a better home ice advantage than the Jets.

The other thing to watch for is how Alex Ovechkin is playing. The rugged winger appeared injured in a practice drill; with some thinking, he had a concussion. Coach Dale Hunter later said it was just the wind knocked out of him, but this will be something to watch. The return of Mike Green from suspension could also be a tremendous help for the Caps power play, which has been anemic in recent weeks, going only three for thirty-six.

Why is this game huge in the playoff chase? It is because the race is so tight, not only for the last playoff spot, but also the Southeast Division title. Washington is only three points out of first place. For Winnipeg, a win tonight lets them pass Buffalo and move within two points of the Caps for the final slot in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Capitals would like to get a victory and push the Jets three full games behind them in the standings.

John Atchison is a fervent supporter of his hometown Washington Capitals. He has a passion for hockey and someday hopes to have a role in the Capitals organization so he can raise the Stanley Cup! Follow him on Twitter @John_Atchison.

Sources: washingtoncapitals.com

espn.go.com/nhl/team/_/name/wpg/winnipeg-jets

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Updated Friday, Mar 16, 2012