Early this season, Washington seemed to be able to manufacture wins despite not looking great on paper. The Capitals had a 17-9-4 record through Dec. 21, but at that time they had a minus-8 goal differential. Washington was doing fine defensively, ranking 10th with 2.73 goals allowed per game, but it was 30th offensively, averaging just 2.43 goals per contest. Washington compensated for that by having one of the league’s best records in one-goal games (10-1-4).
The question at the time was if Washington’s success was mere smoke and mirrors. At this point, it’s fair to say that it was. The Capitals are now 22-20-7. They’re seven points back in the Wild Card race, which might not sound like much, but it’s a mountain to climb this late in the campaign. Meanwhile, their goal differential has gotten even worse, dropping to minus-36.
If Washington can’t find a way to turn things around soon, then the Capitals will need to consider retooling. What would look like, though? Trading Alexander Ovechkin is almost certainly a nonstarter. He’s not having that strong of a season anyway (11 goals and 33 points in 46 games) and at the age of 38, teams might be reluctant to take on his $9.5 million cap hit through 2025-26. Even if he was playing well, though, he’s the face of the franchise and has a no-movement clause, so there would be a lot of barriers to moving him.
TJ Oshie? His $5.75 million cap hit through 2024-25 likely would give contenders pause too. The 37-year-old has just eight goals and 12 points through 32 contests. Tom Wilson agreed to a seven-year, $45.5 million contract in August, so Washington probably won’t trade him, and Dylan Strome is signed to a $5 million cap hit through 2027-28. Meanwhile, Nicklas Backstrom is on the long-term injured reserve and isn’t likely to play again this season while Evgeny Kuznetsov is in the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program, so neither of them is likely to come up in serious trade conversations.
There are still a couple of players who might be dealt. Anthony Mantha’s 16 goals and 24 points in 45 outings isn’t good relative to his $5.7 million cap hit, but at least his contract ends at the end of this campaign, so there might be contenders willing to part with a pick for him if Washington retains half his remaining salary. Max Pacioretty has a goal and seven points in 14 contests since coming back from his Achilles injury. That’s not great, but there might still be a team interested in him as a secondary scorer and veteran presence.
Those kinds of moves won’t fundamentally change Washington, though, they’ll just leave the Capitals with minor consolation prizes for their lost season. At some point, though, Washington needs to decide if a larger rebuild is necessary. The Capitals are likely reluctant to go down that path while Ovechkin is still under contract, but the alternative might be added years of futility before finally beginning the process.
Anaheim Ducks – TUE @ MTL, THU @ OTT, SAT @ TOR
The Ducks will be in Canada next week, playing in Montreal on Tuesday, Ottawa on Thursday and Toronto on Saturday. The 26-15-8 Maple Leafs figure to be a tough adversary, but Montreal and Ottawa are far removed from the playoff picture.
Those upcoming two games against struggling opponents give Troy Terry an opportunity to extend his hot streak. The 26-year-old has recorded at least a point in six consecutive contests, totaling four goals and six assists. Adam Henrique has been on a run too, providing five goals and 14 points across his last 12 appearances, which gives him 15 goals and 33 points in 49 outings in 2023-24.
Pay special attention to Henrique because there’s a good chance he’ll get traded before the deadline. Granted, that’s not until March 8, but we’ve already seen a couple of major moves, so there’s no guarantee that teams looking to upgrade will wait before pulling the trigger. Especially with Henrique doing so well recently, Anaheim might be able to get a decent return for him. How that impacts Henrique remains to be seen. He’s averaging 17:16 of ice time with Anaheim, including 2:21 with the man advantage, and might not get that kind of role with a contender, which might hinder his fantasy value.
Another trade candidate with Anaheim is Jakob Silfverberg. The 33-year-old forward has struggled this campaign with just five goals and 13 points in 49 outings, but he’s shown some life recently, supplying three goals and five points over his last four appearances. It helps that he’s averaged 15:07 in that span, compared to 12:14 on the season.
Arizona Coyotes – MON @ PHI, WED VS MIN, FRI VS CAR, SUN @ COL
The Coyotes have a busy week ahead of them. It will start with a trip to Philadelphia on Monday, followed by a home stretch versus the Wild on Wednesday and Hurricanes on Friday. Finally, the Coyotes will head to Colorado to play the Avalanche on Sunday.
Although Arizona doesn’t have a back-to-back set next week, the busy schedule might still lead to Karel Vejmelka getting some work. He had a strong relief appearance Thursday, stopping the 28 Golden Knights shots he faced after Connor Ingram surrendered three goals on just six shots midway through the first frame. That strong performance is the exception, though. Vejmelka still has a 6-11-2 record, 3.33 GAA and .900 save percentage in 18 appearances in 2023-24. Ingram has been the better option with a 17-12-1 record, 2.69 GAA and .914 save percentage in 33 outings, but he’s now allowed at least three goals in each of his last three contests, so there’s an opening here for Vejmelka if he can take advantage of it.
Someone else with an opening is Jack McBain. He’s been all over the lineup this season, but recently the 24-year-old has featured on the top unit alongside Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz. McBain isn’t much of an offensive threat, scoring just six goals and 15 points through 34 games, so don’t get too excited, but it of course helps to be working alongside players of that caliber.
Especially with Clayton Keller being hot at the moment. He has eight goals and 15 points over his past 12 contests, bringing him up to 21 tallies and 46 points across 49 games.
Boston Bruins – TUE VS TBL, THU VS SEA, SAT VS LAK
The Bruins get to stay in Boston next week and will host the Lightning on Tuesday, the Kraken on Thursday and the Kings on Saturday. It’s not the easiest schedule, but Seattle isn’t in a playoff position and LA has been slumping for the better part of two months, so the potential is there for the Bruins to have a strong run.
Some teams lack any particular player who has stood out recently. That’s almost never the case for the Bruins. You can count on David Pastrnak to put on a show and, most recently, he’s provided three goals and eight points in four contests. He continues to be one of the league’s biggest stars with 33 goals and 75 points through 51 outings.
One player who isn’t as much of a sure thing is Pavel Zacha, but he’s been clicking lately, providing two goals and six points over his active four-game scoring streak. That brings him up to 12 goals and 33 points in 47 appearances this season.
Meanwhile, Brad Marchand has been quickly climbing up the goal-scoring list. He’s found the back of the net 12 times over his past 15 contests, giving him 25 markers and 51 points in 51 games. That puts him on pace to reach the 40-goal milestone for the first time, but his current hot streak has skewed those numbers and he’s a safer bet to finish with around 35 tallies.
Los Angeles Kings – TUE @ BUF, THU @ NJD, SAT @BOS, SUN @ PIT (BTB)
As noted above, LA has struggled lately, posting a 3-8-6 record over its past 17 outings. The Kings will attempt to rebound during a road trip that will take them to Buffalo on Tuesday, New Jersey on Thursday, Boston on Saturday and Pittsburgh on Sunday. Certainly not the easiest of schedules, but LA is one of the few teams set to play in four contests, so it’s still worthy of mention.
Maybe the Kings will get some help from Brandt Clarke, who was summoned from AHL Ontario on Thursday. He’s been fantastic in the minors, recording eight goals, 33 points and 35 PIM in 32 contests and figures to be a big part of LA’s long-term plans. It’s not clear what role he’ll have next week, but with the way things have been going for the Kings, they could stand to mix things up, and giving Clarke some responsibility would be one way to do that.
Alex Turcotte was also recalled Thursday. He had a goal and an assist in two games with LA during his previous stint and has recorded 24 points (seven goals) across 30 AHL appearances, so the 22-year-old might be helpful too.
Given the busy schedule, Cam Talbot is expected to get at least one opportunity to rebound over the next week. He had a 14-8-3 record, 2.10 GAA and .925 save percentage in 25 appearances through Jan. 2, but since then he’s lost his last seven contests while posting an ugly 4.62 GAA and .865 save percentage. He hasn’t played since Jan. 26, though, so perhaps the 36-year-old goaltender has had sufficient time off to step back and reset.
At the same time, David Rittich has done well, posting a 5-1-3 record, 2.09 GAA and .925 save percentage in 11 outings this season, which is part of the reason why he’s been able to wrestle the starting gig from Talbot. Even if Talbot rebounds, there’s a chance Rittich will stay busy, perhaps in a 1A and 1B situation. Certainly, this is a goaltending duo worth monitoring.
Montreal Canadiens – TUE VS ANA, THU @ NYR, SAT VS WAS
The Canadiens will host the Ducks on Tuesday, visit the Rangers on Thursday and conclude the week with a home match versus the Capitals on Saturday. New York is a tough adversary, but Anaheim and Washington aren’t in playoff positions.
Montreal’s standout forward recently has been Nick Suzuki, who has provided three goals and eight points during his active five-game scoring streak. The 24-year-old was limited to three assists across eight appearances from Jan. 4-18, but he’s been far more hit than miss this campaign, totaling 15 goals and 45 points through 50 contests.
Sean Monahan was having a strong season with Montreal too, but he was dealt to Winnipeg. The silver lining is that opened the door for Brandon Gignac to make his Canadiens debut Tuesday against Washington. Gignac logged 14:54 of ice time, including 0:32 on the power play. He didn’t record a point in that game, but the 26-year-old has 14 goals, 42 points and 36 PIM in 43 outings with AHL Laval this season, so if he continues to serve in a middle-six capacity while seeing time on the Canadiens’ second power-play unit, then he should have some offensive production going forward. Keep in mind that Montreal might not be done trading veterans. At the least, Tanner Pearson is likely to be shopped, and if that happens, the door might be opened to Gignac also serving a bigger role with the man advantage.
It’s safe to say Juraj Slafkovsky won’t be moved, though. Although the 19-year-old hasn’t been a major part of the Canadiens this year, supplying nine goals and 22 points across 50 contests, he is a big part of their long-term plans. He’s also seen an uptick in production recently, collecting five goals and seven points over his last eight games, so perhaps we’re seeing the early stages of a strong second half.
New Jersey Devils – MON VS SEA, TUE @ NAS (BTB), THU VS LAK, SAT VS PHI
New Jersey is gearing up for an eventful week. It will start by hosting the Kraken on Monday, then the Devils will play in Nashville on Tuesday before returning home to face the Kings on Thursday. They’ll conclude the week with a game against the Flyers on Saturday. New Jersey is the home team for that contest, but rather than it being played at Prudential Center, it will be an outdoor event at MetLife Stadium (the home of the New York Giants and New York Jets).
Injuries have held Jack Hughes back in 2023-24, but he returned from an upper-body issue Thursday, logging 20:24 of ice time, including 3:19 with the man advantage. If he can stay healthy, then Hughes adding 35-40 points over the Devils’ final 33 games is a reasonable hope.
Erik Haula might see his role diminish somewhat now that Hughes is back. Haula logged 15:40 on Thursday compared to an average of 17:40 from Jan. 6-Feb. 6 while the Devils were without Hughes. Haula, who had three goals and seven points in 10 outings during that stretch, might see his production decline as a result. He has 11 goals and 25 points in 43 appearances overall.
One forward who is likely to get a lot of work regardless of Hughes’ status is Jesper Bratt. The 25-year-old winger has certainly earned that privilege. He registered three assists Thursday to extend his scoring streak to six contests (four goals, nine points). Bratt’s up to 20 markers and 55 points through 49 outings in 2023-24.
Ottawa Senators – TUE VS CBJ, THU VS ANA, SAT VS CHI
The Senators aren’t having a great campaign, but they’ll be playing against some of the other teams at the bottom of the pack next week. They’ll host the Blue Jackets on Tuesday and the Ducks on Thursday before visiting the Blackhawks on Saturday.
Before that action starts, Anton Forsberg (groin) and Travis Hamonic (upper body) are set to return this Saturday versus Toronto. The Senators are expected to be without Jake Sanderson (lower body) against Toronto, though, and it remains to be seen if he’ll be available next week. If he can’t play, then Mathieu Joseph will likely find himself with a role on the power play again after averaging just 0:10 with the man advantage over Ottawa’s last seven contests. Joseph hasn’t recorded a power-play point this season, but he’s done well overall with eight goals and 23 points through 37 appearances, so this is a situation worth monitoring.
It will also be interesting to see if Forsberg’s return saps time away from starting goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. The No. 1 goaltender has left plenty to be desired this season with a 12-16-2 record, 3.38 GAA and .889 save percentage in 33 outings. However, Korpisalo has stepped up lately, posting a 4-1-2 record, 2.19 GAA and .912 save percentage across his past seven appearances. If he keeps that up, he should be able to hold Forsberg at bay, but if Korpisalo reverts back to his previous struggles, then Forsberg might play on a semi-regular basis down the stretch.
The Senators don’t have any blazing hot forward at the moment, but Shane Pinto has done well since returning from his 41-game suspension for sports wagering activities. He has two goals and four points in six contests and should continue to serve in a middle-six capacity as well as the first power-play unit going forward.
Toronto Maple Leafs – TUE VS STL, THU VS PHI, SAT VS ANA
The Maple Leafs will spend next week at home, hosting the Blues on Tuesday, the Flyers on Thursday and the Ducks on Saturday. That’s not the weakest of schedules, but it’s not a particularly difficult one either. St. Louis and Philadelphia are both in the middle to upper-middle of the pack while Anaheim ranks near the bottom.
Joseph Woll (ankle) still isn’t close to returning, so Ilya Samsonov and Martin Jones are still the team’s goaltending duo. Jones hasn’t started since Jan. 20, but Samsonov has surrendered seven goals on 60 shots (.883 save percentage) over his past two contests, so Jones might get another shot next week. Both of those goaltenders have had great stretches, but also some incredibly rough patches, so they’re risks going forward.
One player who hasn’t dealt with such a roller coaster of a campaign is Auston Matthews. The 26-year-old has eight goals and 13 points in eight contests, but what’s remarkable is he’s not especially hot, that’s practically just the norm for him. Through 48 games, he’s supplied 41 tallies and 61 points and is likely to continue to find the back of the net at a reliable pace as long as he stays healthy. His continued health is critical to the team. While it’s true that Toronto has other superstars, he’s personally scored a staggering 24.3 percent of the team’s entire goals.
In terms of the supporting cast, Toronto doesn’t have anyone doing particularly well at present. The only players to accumulate at least three points over the Leafs’ last five contests are the Big Four (Matthews, John Tavares, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander) and their top defenseman, Morgan Rielly. Matthew Knies is getting a turn on the Matthews’ line, though, so perhaps that will help the 21-year-old forward.