The Washington Capitals clash with the Colorado Avalanche in the first meeting of the year between the two teams. The two teams split the regular season series last season with the home team dominating the visitor each time. Colorado thumped Washington 6-2 on November 16 in the Rockies while the Capitals returned the favor with a 5-2 victory in DC on December 12. Action from Pepsi Center in Denver on Friday night will be broadcasted on NBC Sports Washington+ beginning at 9 PM Eastern.
The Capitals continue a four-game road trip against the Avalanche on Friday night. They split the first two games, of the road trip beating the Minnesota Wild 5-2 at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday before falling to the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 at Bell MTS Centre the following day. Despite losing in Winnipeg, the Capitals played two very good games in two tough buildings. They outshot the two teams by a combined score of 61-52 and scored first in each game. The team looks to continue their strong play in Colorado.
The Capitals gave up yet another power-play goal against the Jets, going 1-for-3 on the night. Washington is 17-for-25 on the penalty kill in their past six games (68% efficiency) and has yielded at least one power-play goal a game in that span. The team ranks 28th in the league with a penalty-killing rate of 72.5%. The Avalanche come into Friday third in the NHL with an efficiency of 29% on the man advantage. The Capitals come in right behind the Avalanche converting at an efficiency of 28.8% on the power play.
Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov and forward T.J. Oshie each left the game against Winnipeg with upper-body injuries and their status against the Avalanche is unclear. Kuznetsov was the victim of a high hit to the head from forward Brandon Tanev while Oshie was hit from behind. Goaltender Braden Holtby (upper-body) and defenseman Michal Kempny (illness), who each missed Wednesday’s game, Kuznetsov, and Oshie are all labeled as day-to-day and their status for the game on Friday is unclear. Kuznetsov leads the Capitals with 21 points and shares the lead for power-play goals (6) and power-play points (11) with captain Alex Ovechkin.
Center Nicklas Backstrom has recorded seven points (two goals) in his last seven games. Backstrom leads the Capitals in assists this season (16) and is tied for eighth in the NHL in that category. He had a six-game point streak end against the Jets on Wednesday night. He tallied two goals and seven points over that span. He will likely play with Ovechkin, who leads the team with 12 goals this season, against Colorado if Kuznetsov can’t go.
Expect goaltender Pheonix Copley to make his third consecutive start on Friday night. He is 3-2-1 with a save percentage of .905 and a goals-against average of 2.76. Holtby will likely start if he’s feeling better. He is 5-5-2 with a .900 save percentage and a 3.24 goals-against average. Lifetime against Colorado, Holtby is 5-1-0 with a save percentage of .917 and a goals-against average of 2.34.
The Avalanche made NHL history last season making the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 95 points after finishing last in the league with 48 points the year prior. They were 22 points behind 29th place in the NHL in 2016-17. The Avalanche gave the Presidents-Trophy winning Nashville Predators all they could handle but fell in six games in Round 1 of the playoffs. This season, Colorado roared out to a flying 5-1-0 start but have fallen off since, going 4-5-2 in their previous 11 games.
Colorado boasts the top two league-leaders in terms of points. Forward Mikko Rantanen comes into Friday’s game against Washington leading the league in assists (22) and points (29) after posting 29 goals and 84 points a season ago. The 22-year old native of Finland started the season on a nine-game point streak, scoring four goals and 16 points in that span. Rantanen has tallied two goals and five points in the past two games for the Avalanche. Behind him is center Nathan MacKinnon, who is tied for second in the NHL with Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron with 26 points (12 goals). MacKinnon, 23, was a finalist for the Hart Trophy, awarded to league MVP, last season when he tallied 39 goals and 97 points in only 74 games.
The Avalanche wrap up a quick two-game homestand against the Capitals on Friday. They rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the second period and beat the Boston Bruins 6-3 in the homestand opener on Wednesday. They scored four goals in the third period and three power-play goals in the game to complete the comeback against the Bruins.
Colorado averages 3.61 goals-per-game this season, the highest goals-per-game average in the NHL. They own the league’s highest-scoring line of Rantanen, MacKinnon, and forward Gabriel Landeskog, who have combined for 31 goals and 75 points this season.
The Avalanche added defenseman Ian Cole, who has one goal, six points, and a +7 rating this season, and forward Matt Calvert, who has two goals (both shorthanded) and five points, from the Columbus Blue Jackets on the first day of free agency. They also acquired goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who has a 3-1-1 record with a save percentage of .893 and a goals-against-average of 3.55 this season, from the Capitals at the NHL Draft.
Grubauer, 26, will start against his former club for the first time in his career.
-Since appearing against the Florida Panthers on Oct. 19, Copley has posted a record of 3-1-0 with a 2.08 goals against average and a .925 save percentage in five games played. During that span, Copley posted a career-best four-game point streak and ranks 10th in the NHL in goals-against average, 13th in save percentage and eighth in even strength save percentage (.949); Copley’s .873 high-danger save percentage is eighth-best among goaltenders that have played at least 300 minutes this season.
-the Capitals have won seven of their last eight games against the Avalanche
-After scoring in the first period against the Jets, forward Jakub Vrana has four first-period goals, which lead the Capitals
A Look Back in Time
The Capitals crushed the Avalanche by a final score of 6-1 when they stopped in Denver in 2009. Forward Tomas Fleischmann scored twice for the Capitals while Backstrom and forwards David Steckel, Matt Bradley, and Mike Knuble also notched tallies. Goaltender Jose Theodore turned aside 27 Avalanche shots for the win.
By Harrison Brown