• Capitals defend Presidents’ Trophy crown
• Sabres feeling mixed emotions after final home game
• Kris Letang will miss playoff run with Penguins
For the second straight year, the Washington Capitals are the NHL’s best regular season team. The Buffalo Sabres are still dreaming of that kind of success. And the defending champions from Pittsburgh got some bad news about a key player.
Here are three things we learned.
Capitals back on top
All the talk around Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals always comes down to whether they can they win in the playoffs or not.
But let’s pause that for a moment to discuss how impressive their past two regular seasons have been.
By beating the New York Rangers 2-0 on Wednesday, the Capitals claimed the Presidents’ Trophy and repeated as regular season champions. That’s hard to do.
Since the trophy was introduced in 1985, the Capitals are only the third team to win it three times.
The Capitals do have to worry about the pressure that comes with being the best. Out of the previous 29 winners, only eight have won a Stanley Cup. The last team to do it was the Chicago Blackhawks, in the shortened 2012-13 season.
But this season’s version of the Capitals may be the one most likely to break through and win the Cup.
Part of that has been Braden Holtby, who has been putting together another Vezina worthy season. His shutout on Wednesday gave him 42 wins and nine shutouts, both tops in the league.
But possibly a bigger part of the team’s success has been depth. Ovechkin isn’t leading the team in scoring this year, and actually is on pace for his lowest goal total in four years. Luckily for the Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom has exploded for his highest point total since 2010. And other players like Marcus Johansson, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov have stepped up in big ways.
Just look at the passing on this goal. The Capitals sometimes seem unstoppable.
There’s a three way battle for seeding in the Atlantic Division between the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators. One of those three teams will likely have to face the Capitals in the first round. I don’t think any of them want to.
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Sabres leave final home game with mixed emotions
It was another tough season for the Buffalo Sabres but there is some hope for the future. The team played its final home game of the season Wednesday and beat the division-leading Montreal Canadiens 2-1.
And it was young Sabres who led the way.
But after the game, Eichel voiced his frustration with how the season went.
“I think more than anything, it’s another year with an outcome that you don’t want,” Eichel told reporters. “It sucks. That’s the best way to describe it. It sucks.”
The Sabres currently have 78 points, good for sixth in the Atlantic Division, with two games to go. Last season, the team finished with 81 points.
The Sabres also have teammate Kyle Okoposo on the mind as the season comes to an end. According to reports out of Buffalo, the 28-year-old is in intensive care with an undisclosed illness.
Hopefully he can battle through it and be back with the team next season.
Penguins lose Kris Letang for playoff run
The Pittsburgh Penguins will be without star defenceman Kris Letang for their quest to defend the Stanley Cup this spring. The team announced that Letang is going to have surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck. The estimated recovery time is four-to-six months.
Letang and head coach Mike Sullivan addressed the media on Wednesday afternoon.
The Penguins have been without Letang in the lineup since Feb. 21. In 41 games this season, he has five goals and 34 points.
“Right now, it’s pretty hard to swallow,” Letang said. “It’s hard, but like I’ve done in the past I’m going to put my energy into getting better and get back to where I was.”
Without Letang, the current Penguins defence has a combined 106 games of playoff experience. Letang on his own has 116.
Letang is also just one of many Penguins players who have missed time as of late. Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Carl Hagelin, Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley have all been out for the past few weeks and it’s unclear if any of them will be ready in time for the playoffs.
With the Rangers’ loss to the Capitals on Wednesday, the Penguins are guaranteed to play the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, although home ice in that series is still up for grabs.
For all of their health problems, the Penguins still have the second most points in the NHL. Columbus will be a formidable foe for sure, but the Penguins have shown all season that they can find ways to win.