By Tyler Leli @jetleli on March 12, 2014
On Tuesday night the Washington Capitals lost 2-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins, which leaves the team three points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. With only 15 games left in the season the Capitals have a lot of work to do, and they need a number of players to step up in a big way.
These are the five guys that the Capitals most need to step up the rest of the way to sneak into the playoffs.
Dustin Penner was acquired in a somewhat surprising trade deadline move, and he has yet to pick up a point in four games since then. The burly forward has seemed a bit leery of going into the corner and truly getting physical, which really limits his presence. The Capitals need Penner to be physical in the corners and in front of the net in order to provide much needed secondary scoring the rest of the season.
Adam Oates may want to slowly bring along Evgeny Kuznetsov, but the Capitals need the 21-year-old to produce, and in a big way. Kuznetsov saw his time on the ice jump from 10:22 in his debut to 14:52 on Tuesday night, and he even gained brief time on the first line. Washington needs Kuznetsov to use his size and skill to step up to the second line and become a real threat the rest of the season.
Mike Green has shown flashes of being the dynamic puck moving, scoring threat that he was from 2007-10, but a concussion at the beginning of February seemed to stunt this growth. Since returning from the Olympic break Green has eight games, but only has one goal and four assists to show, with each coming in one two game stretch. Green needs to become a consistent power play and second line puck mover to justify his hefty minutes on the ice.
Alexander Ovechkin has actually been quite effective during the current season, as his 44 goals leads the NHL by nine over the next closest competitor. Unfortunately, Ovechkin only has one goal in the Capitals' last five games, a total that greatly decreases both the Capitals scoring chances and winning probability. When the star forward doesn't score Washington is 5-16-6, which indicates how important Ovechkin is to a playoff appearance.
Jaroslav Halak is another recent addition, and his success transcends any other player because he can steal points by himself. After starting the last three games it is clear that Halak is going to be the starter going forward, and he has been quite steady in each of the three games he has played. Still, Washington fans remember the playoff series he stole from the Capitals in 2010, and the team needs that guy to secure playoff hockey in 2014.
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