Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals take on the Colorado Avalanche for the second and final time this season in Denver on Thursday night. The Avalanche ended a three-game losing streak (0-2-1) to the Capitals with a 6-3 win back on October 14 in Washington, when the two teams first met. Action from Pepsi Center can be seen on NBC Sports Washington locally or on NBCSN nationally beginning at 9:30 PM ET.
The Capitals begin a three-game Western Conference road trip in Colorado on Thursday night. They are a league-best 20-6-1 away from home and have won three straight on the road, where they have scored at least four goals in each of those contests, after dropping three of their previous four road games. Thursday will mark their first road game in 13 days. The Capitals have allowed 34 goals in their past nine road games.
The Capitals look to get back to their game after getting outscored 12-5 in the final two games of their season-long four-game homestand, where they went 1-3-0. Since a season-long six-game winning streak ended in December, the Capitals are 10-9-0 and are 3-4-0 coming off of their bye-week. They have been unusually loose defensively lately, allowing 33 goals in their last eight games (an average of 4.13 per game). After getting a point in a 2-1 overtime loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins are only three points behind the Capitals with a game in hand.
Third time’s the charm? Captain Alex Ovechkin, who has been scoreless in three of the Capitals’ last four games after scoring 11 goals in his previous five games, remains two goals away from 700 in his NHL career. His 40 goals this season are tied with Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews for the league lead. Defenseman John Carlson’s 67 points are 12th in the NHL this season while his 52 assists are second behind only Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl and his +17 rating is tied with Penguins forward Bryan Rust and defenseman Brian Dumoulin for 21st. The 30-year-old has five assists and seven points in his past five and two goals in his last three after going 17 games without a tally. Center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who left the second period of the team’s 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Monday night with an upper-body injury, is day-to-day and will travel with the team but will not play against the Avalanche.
The Capitals’ average of 3.55 goals-per-game is second in the NHL this season while their recent stretch of defensive deficiencies has dropped them to an average of 3.04 goals-against per game, which is tied with the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks for 17th. They entered last week tied for 11th with an average of 2.92 goals-against per game. Their 84.2% penalty-killing efficiency is second in the league behind only the San Jose Sharks (85.6%) while their 20.3% power-play efficiency is 14th. The Capitals’ average of 31.9 shots-per-game is the 12th-highest while their average of 29.8 shots-against per game is the fifth-lowest.
After getting pulled for the first time in his NHL career against the Islanders, where he allowed five goals on 20 shots, goaltender Ilya Samsonov is expected to get the start. Samsonov 16-4-1 with a 2.38 goals-against average (tied for tenth with Dallas Stars goaltender Ben Bishop), a .917 save percentage (tied for 20th with Carolina Hurricanes goaltender James Reimer), and one shutout this season. He made 19 saves on 21 shots in relief of Braden Holtby in the Capitals’ 6-3 loss to the Avalanche in October.
The Avalanche continue a five-game homestand, which is tied for their longest this season, against the Capitals after opening it with a 3-0 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night. They have won four straight at home and have not lost at Pepsi Center in regulation since the last decade, going 5-0-2 since the turn of the calendar. Overall this season, the Avalanche have a 15-7-4 record at home.
After shocking many with a run to Game 7 of the Second Round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs a season ago as the Western Conference’s second wild-card, the Avalanche are just one point behind the St. Louis Blues for first in the Central Division and Western Conference this year. They head into Thursday night’s game on a five-game winning streak and have scored at least four goals in four of those games and have not allowed more than two in any of those games. The Avalanche are also 8-1-2 in their last 11.
Center Nathan MacKinnon’s 78 points in 55 games this season are currently tied with Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak for third in the NHL while his 46 assists are tied with Bruins forward Brad Marchand and New York Rangers forward Artemi Panarin for fourth. His 32 goals are tied with Draisaitl for the fourth-most. The 24-year-old has two goals and six points during a five-game point streak and has been held without a point only 10 times this season. Defenseman Ryan Graves leads the league with a +41 rating. No other player has a plus-minus rating higher than +30. Former Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky, who will play his second game against his former team since getting dealt on June 28, has already tied his career-high in goals (17) and set a career-high in points (41) in 52 games this season. Defenseman Cale Makar ranks fifth among all NHL rookies with 12 goals, second with 30 assists (Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes: 36) and 42 points (Hughes: 42), and fifth with a +12 rating. Center Nazem Kadri is out week-to-week with a lower-body injury, which he sustained in the team’s 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday.
The Avalanche’s average of 3.64 goals-per-game is the highest in the NHL this season while their average of 2.78 goals-against per game ranks ninth. Despite their firepower up front, their 19.4% power-play efficiency is 16th. The Avalanche’s 79.2% penalty-killing rate is 19th. Their average of 32.9 shots-per-game is the seventh-highest in the NHL this season. Though, their average of 31.9 shots-against per game is 20th.
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who is 18-11-4 with a .915 save percentage, a 2.64 goals-against average, and two shutouts in 34 games this season, is expected to get the nod in net against his former team on Thursday night. In two career games against the Capitals, the 28-year old has allowed six goals on 61 shots (.902 save percentage) while going 1-0-1. In his past four starts, all victories, Grubauer has stopped 113 of 116 shots (.974 save percentage). He made 34 saves in the team’s shutout win over the Senators on Tuesday.
- Carlson’s 22 multi-point games this season is tied with Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, Oilers captain Connor McDavid, and Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov for the fourth-most in the NHL
- Center Lars Eller, who has three goals and six points in his last seven games, will likely suit up for his 300th game as a Capital
- This season, the Capitals have outscored opponents by 18 goals (100-82) on the road and are tied for second in the NHL in road goals
- Ovechkin has 23 goals in 26 road games this season, which leads the NHL, while Carlson’s 27 road assists are tied with Draisaitl for the most in the NHL
- The Capitals are 13-3-4 against Western Conference teams this season
- The Capitals rank sixth in the NHL in road power-play percentage (22.5%)
- Since Jan. 18, forward T.J. Oshie has eight points (three goals) in eight games and is currently on a three-game point streak (two goals, four points)
- This season, Eller’s 55.9 shot attempt percentage (733 shot attempts for, 576 against) at five-on-five ranks first among Capitals with at least 25 games played and tied for fifth among NHL centers
By Harrison Brown