Feb. 13 vs. Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center
Time: 9:30 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Washington Capitals 36-15-5
Colorado Avalanche 33-16-6
The Caps start a three-game road trip on Thursday night in Denver, opening the journey against one of the league's hottest teams in the Colorado Avalanche. This marks Washington's first multi-game road trip in nearly two months; the Caps have had a run of eight straight one-game road trips since Dec. 16, and they forged a 5-3-0 record in those games.
On the season, Washington's 20-6-1 road record is the best in the league. The Caps are 12-2-1 in multi-game trips this season, and they're hoping the upcoming road trip can help lift them from an uneven stretch of hockey they've been mired in for the last several weeks. They'll be facing formidable foes at every stop on the trip, so they'll also need to shore up some sagging areas of their game if they're to have success on this road run.
Fifty-six games into the 2019-20 regular season, the Caps have yet to lose as many as three straight games in regulation. But they'll be in danger of doing so on Thursday, as they head out on the road on the heels of an unimpressive three-game homestand in which all three losses came at the hands of fellow Metropolitan Division denizens.
The Caps surrendered five or more goals against in each of the last two games of the homestand, doing so in consecutive home games for the first time in nearly 11 years. Although they still occupy the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, the Caps have lost much of the standings equity they built up over the first quarter of the season, giving the rest of the Eastern Conference a chance to make up some ground.
Washington is a very ordinary 10-9-0 over its last 19 games, but most alarmingly, the caps have surrendered an average of 3.58 goals per game over that stretch, hardly the mark of a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. No team in the league has been as porous defensively over that span as the Capitals have been.
Now they'll look to get right on the road against an extremely formidable Colorado club.
Video: Reirden | February 12
"I just think we can play better as a five-man unit all over the ice," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "Mistakes are going to happen, and I think we have to be in position. If you're playing in a five-man unit, then when mistakes happen you are able to provide a layer of support, and hopefully some of those things can continue to improve.
"Obviously we need to improve defensively, and on that same thought we worked on it [Wednesday] in practice, we worked on it [Tuesday] in practice, and we're continuing to focus on it. It's not something that's going to all of a sudden get better for 60 straight minutes against Colorado. It's something that is a work in progress, and we will continue to analyze it properly and make sure we're doing the things that we can do to improve it on a daily basis."
Washington will play Thursday's game without center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who suffered an upper body injury in Monday's 5-3 loss to the Islanders in the homestand finale. Kuznetsov took a hard hit into the boards from New York's Leo Komarov in the second period of Monday's game and he did not return. He didn't practice with his teammates the last two days, but he will go on the trip because the Caps believe he may be able to play in Arizona on Saturday and/or Vegas on Monday.
"There is hope, because otherwise we would leave him here," says Reirden. "So there is hope. That's why we're bringing him on the trip, to get the proper treatment. He keeps making steps in the right direction, so we'll keep him on the same program that we have him on now and hope to get him on the ice as soon as possible."
Lars Eller will move up from the middle of the third line to the middle of the second unit in Kuznetsov's absence, and Travis Boyd will step into Eller's usual slot in the middle of the third line.
Colorado comes into Thursday's contest with a five-game winning streak. The Avs started the season on an 8-1-1 spree, and they are now 8-1-1 in their last 10 games as well. In between those two hot spells, the Avalanche rolled up a more ordinary 17-14-4 mark, but they've been firmly ensconced in the upper echelon of the NHL's Central Division all season.
Video: Locker Room | February 12
Thursday's game is the second in a five-game homestand for the Avs, who started it off on Tuesday night with a 3-0 blanking of the Ottawa Senators. During the life of its current five-game winning streak, the Avalanche has been extremely stingy, outscoring the opposition by a combined total of 18-5.
Colorado will go to the great outdoors for the middle match of its five-game homestand, hosting the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night in a Stadium Series contest at the Air Force Academy's Falcon Stadium. Like the Capitals, Colorado has been a better road team (18-9-2) than it has been on home ice (15-7-4) this season. With 20 road wins, the Caps are the only team in the league with more road victories than the Avalanche.
The Caps and Avs met in the District way back on Oct. 14, with Colorado taking a 6-3 win over Washington in that one. The Avs rolled out to a 4-0 first-period lead in that afternoon affair and they coasted the rest of the way.