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The Washington Capitals are on a three-game winning streak, giving them a four-point cushion over fellow Southeast rival Winnipeg and putting them within a point of division-leading Florida. But the Capitals kick off a five-game road swing this week trying to hold on to a playoff spot while overcoming their road struggles.
Four of the six worst road teams in the league reside in the Southeast, with only Florida boasting a winning record away from home. The Panthers, Lightning and Jets all spend the entire week at home, but the Capitals — just 12-18-3 away from Verizon Center — will need to reverse their fortune on the road with travel games against the Islanders (Tuesday), Jets (Friday) and Blackhawks (Sunday) on the schedule this week.
Washington’s top players have produced similarly as visitors and at home, but it’s the Capitals’ role players that have struggled to score on the road. Troy Brouwer has just 12 points — including only four goals — on the road, compared to 14 goals and 19 points in D.C. Similarly, Jason Chimera has twice as many goals at home (11) as on the road (five).
But more importantly, Washington’s power play has been dreadful on the road. The Capitals are a top-10 power play at home at 20.6 percent, but they plummet to 12.3 percent on the road, one of the worst conversion rates in the league.
Coach Dale Hunter will also need to decide who will carry the workload in net this week. With at least one day off between each game, Hunter could choose to go with one goalie. But like the team as a whole, both Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun haven’t performed well on the road. Without decent results on this trip, Washington could see its hold on the eighth playoff spot evaporate.
Southeast Division Notes
Carolina Hurricanes – The Hurricanes are the only Southeast team who will play both at home and on the road this week. Carolina will look at avoid a season sweep at the Rangers on Tuesday, then return home to try to avenge an early season overtime loss to the Blues on Thursday. It’s then back to the road for the weekend, with the season’s lone match-up with the Wild on Saturday afternoon followed by a division game against the Jets the next night.
Florida Panthers – The Panthers 2-0 win Sunday over Carolina helped them maintain a one-point lead over Washington in the Southeast. With all three of their games at the Bank Atlantic Center this week, Florida hopes to widen their lead and perhaps even make headway on No. 2 seed Boston, who come to South Florida on Thursday. That game is sandwiched by meetings with two teams on the outside looking in, with floundering Toronto coming to town Tuesday, then 10th place Buffalo Saturday to round out the week.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Tampa Bay’s loss at home Saturday to Carolina dealt a huge blow to the team’s slim playoff hopes. The Lightning now sit seven points out of eighth place with just 14 games remaining, but are in the midst of a two-week stay at home in an attempt to erase that deficit. The loss to the Hurricanes was the first game of a seven-game home stand that resumes Tuesday with Boston coming to town. Toronto then visits on Thursday, followed by a Saturday night game against St. Louis. With six of the season’s final eight games on the road, the Lightning need to earn as many points at home as they can to try and get back in the playoff picture.
Winnipeg Jets – After back-to-back road losses, the Jets play three games at the MTS Centre this week in an attempt to gain ground on Washington and Florida for a playoff spot. Five days after a loss in Calgary, Winnipeg will host Dallas on Wednesday, then have a pivotal game with Washington — the first of two straight Friday night games the teams will have the next two weeks. The Jets then finish their week-long stay in Manitoba by hosting Carolina Sunday.