Photo: Daily Herald
The Washington Capitals host the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night for the second and final meeting of the season between the two teams. The Capitals won the first game in the season series with the Avalanche 3-2 in overtime, despite missing forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie in addition to goaltender Braden Holtby, on November 16 at Pepsi Center. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 7 PM Eastern.
The Avalanche begin a three-game road trip in Washington on Thursday. After playing the Capitals, they go up north for a Saturday afternoon tilt with the New York Islanders before visiting the Boston Bruins the next day. The Avalanche are 12-12-3 on the road this season.
After a 5-1-1 start, Colorado has gone 17-21-7 since and has fallen to the fourth wild-card spot in the Western Conference, though they are two points back of the Vancouver Canucks for the final wild-card spot. The Avalanche enter Thursday’s game off the heels of their fourth consecutive regulation loss, which was also their eighth in their past 10 games, after falling 6-3 to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Pepsi Center on Tuesday.
The Avalanche are powered by their top-line, arguably the best forward trio in the NHL, of forward Mikko Rantanen, who averages 1.42 points-per-game (fourth in the league), center Nathan MacKinnon, who averages 1.38 points-per-game (sixth in the league), and forward Gabriel Landeskog, who averages 1.04 points-per-game (36th in the NHL). Landeskog leads Colorado with 29 goals while Rantanen’s 51 assists are third in the league. The trio has scored 79 of 173 (45.7%) of the goals that Colorado has scored this season. Colorado’s average of 3.33 goals-per-game is seventh in the NHL while their 24.2% conversion rate on the power-play is tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for sixth.
Despite a high-powered offense, the Avalanche give up an average of 3.31 goals-against per game, eighth most in the NHL, and their 76.1% penalty-killing rate is the fourth-worst in the league. All of their defenseman except one, Nikita Zadorov (+9), has a +/- rating of +4 at most. Zadorov is the only non-top-line player with at least a +5 rating. Their goaltenders haven’t been much help as both have a save percentage below .910. Their combined save percentage is only .913, good for only 22nd in the NHL this season.
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who is 9-7-3 with a save percentage of .890 and a goals-against average of 3.47 this season, will likely start against his former team on Thursday night. In 101 career games with the Capitals, the 27-year old German netminder went 43-31-11 with a save percentage of .923, a goals-against average of 2.29, and six shutouts, including 15-10-3 with a 2.35 goals against average and a save percentage of .923 last season. He was arguably the NHL’s best goaltender from Thanksgiving to the end of the regular season, posting a save percentage of .937 and a goals-against average of 1.93 for the Capitals last year. He made 26 saves on 29 shots in the Capitals’ 3-2 win over Colorado on November 16.
The Capitals continue their season-long six-game homestand on Thursday night after going 2-1-0 in the first three games. Following their seven-game losing streak, the team’s longest since 2013-14, the Capitals have seemed to get back to the hockey we’re used to seeing from them after beating the Western Conference-leading Calgary Flames by a score of 4-3 without captain Alex Ovechkin (suspension) before falling 1-0 to the Bruins on Sunday. They beat the Vancouver Canucks by a score of 3-2 in their last game on Tuesday.
Ovechkin leads the NHL with 37 goals and the Capitals with 58 points this season. He has four goals and six points in his past four games. The 33-year old set the Russian record for the most career points in the NHL with his 1180th, an assist in the Capitals’ 3-2 win over the Canucks. Center Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman John Carlson share the team-lead with 40 assists. The Capitals boast three players who have tallied at least 30 assists this season: Carlson and Backstrom in addition to Kuznetsov (35).
The Capitals enter Thursday two points back of the New York Islanders for first place in the Metropolitan Division and two points up on the Pittsburgh Penguins for second. They can hit the 30-win mark with a victory against Colorado.
The Capitals own a rotten 4-6-2 record against Central Division opponents (.417 points percentage) with their last win against a Central Division foe coming on November 21, a 4-2 home win over the Chicago Blackhawks. They are 0-5-1 against Central opponents since that game, getting outscored 32-14 (a goals-against per game average of 5.14) in that span, though none of those games came against the Avalanche.
Defenseman Christian Djoos could return after missing the last 23 games following thigh surgery he went through on December 16. He was sent to the AHL’s Hershey Bears for a two-game conditioning assignment and will likely get called back up tomorrow morning. Djoos, 24, posted four assists and a +6 rating in 28 games before getting injured.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 19-13-3 with a save percentage of .908, a goals-against average of 3.01, and two shutouts this season, will likely start against the Avalanche on Thursday. In six career games against Colorado, the 29-year old goaltender is 5-1-0 with a save percentage of .917 and a goals-against average of 2.34.
-The Capitals have won eight of their last nine games against the Avalanche (8-1-0)
-The Capitals have recorded at least three goals in five of their last six games; this season, they have tallied at least three goals 37 times and hold a 27-6-4 record when they score at least three goals
A Look Back In Time
Forward Jakub Vrana, Carlson, Connolly, defenseman Matt Niskanen, and forward Devante Smith-Pelly would all score for the Capitals in a dominating 5-2 home win against the Avalanche last season. Kuznetsov tallied three assists and Holtby stopped 22 shots in the victory.
By Harrison Brown