The Caps continue on their five-game road trip through four time zones on Wednesday when they make their lone visit to Denver this season to face the Colorado Avalanche. The game pits the league's only team with 50 or more wins thus far (Washington) against the only club in the league with 50 or more losses (Colorado).
Under first-year head coach Jared Bednar, who piloted the Lake Erie Monsters to a Calder Cup Avs ran table in the preseason, going 6-0-0 and permitting a total of just five goals against in the process. Colorado opened the season with two straight wins and won three of its first four, and the Avs were a reasonably respectable 9-9-0 after the first 18 games of the 2016-17 regular season.
Ex-Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov was a Vezina Trophy finalist for Colorado in 2012-13, but his ongoing battle with injuries didn't help Colorado's cause at all this season. Varlamov missed a total of 10 games spread over three different early season absences, and then was lost for the remainder of the season after mid-January when he underwent hip surgery.
Despite the presence of skilled offensive players such as Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen on the roster, the Avs still don't have a 20-goal scorer this season and they rank dead last in the NHL with 147 goals, 22 fewer than the next closest team on the ledger.
Colorado has not had as many as 30 shots on net in any of its 14 games this month, and it is 3-11-0 in March.
On The Road - Tuesday night's win over the Wild in Minnesota was Washington's 19th road win of the season, so the Caps will be taking aim on their 20th road victory of 2016-17 on Wednesday in Denver. The Capitals have won 20 or more road games in six of the last eight full seasons (not counting lockout year), and they set a club record with 27 road wins last season.
Winning the first game of a long road trip can help set up a successful trip, and the Caps were able to achieve that on Tuesday night in Minnesota with a 5-4 overtime victory over the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul.
"It's big, especially against a good team," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby of Tuesday's win over the Wild. "You look at their record lately, and we didn't put any emphasis on it. We know that they're a good team. They hung around and hung around. We got some timely goals that put us in the drivers' seat for a bit, but it was one of those games where it was good to get a win, but there's a lot to work on and get better at for [Wednesday in Denver]."
Coupled with their March 18 road victory over the Lightning in Tampa Bay, the Caps have now won consecutive road games for the first time since mid-January, when they earned victories in St. Louis and Dallas, respectively, as part of the team's annual Mentors' Trip.
Coming into this trip, the Caps were 5-7-1 in their previous 13 road games. That's a bit under par for a team that went 49-23-10 on the road over the previous two seasons, but some of that is attributable to the Caps' overall lull coming out of their mid-February bye week.
"Yeah, probably," says Caps left wing Daniel Winnik. "We probably had a good chunk of those games that we lost on the road then. We had three in California. We had two coming right out of the bye week. So that's five right there. And maybe scheduling has something to do with it.
"I'm in favor of the bye week, but it wasn't very favorable to come back and play two afternoon games after having a week off with only one practice. And we're not using that as an excuse, because we were in both of those games. They were both one-goal games. But I just think everyone in the league understands the importance of home ice and winning on home ice, and it's becoming harder and harder to win on the road."
In The Nets - We believe Philipp Grubauer will get the start for the Caps on Wednesday in Denver against the Avs. Grubauer started and blanked the Avalanche in Washington back on Oct. 18 for his first career NHL shutout.
"We shut them down pretty good," recalls Grubauer. "I don't think they had too many chances. We were going and everybody was chipping in, and we didn't make too many mistakes.
"They have a couple of guys who can make a difference. Their standing doesn't matter; it doesn't mean it's going to be an easy game. We're going to be on the road and we're coming off a back-to-back, and they're going to be in their rink."
The whitewash win over the Avs was the first of Grubauer's 10 victories this season, and it came in his first start of the campaign. He knows not to take the Avs lightly, based on their position in the standings.
"They can create, they're in their own building and those guys like MacKinnon and Duchene can change the game in a second," says Grubauer. "They're a skilled team and they're good off the rush. I think we have to do the same job we did back home and shut them down, limit their chances."
Grubauer will be playing in the Mile High City for the first time as an NHLer, but he is quite familiar with the issues of playing at altitude.
"Back home where I grew up and where I played, it's pretty high, but not as high as Colorado," says Grubuaer. "Back home in Germany, we used to go up in the mountains to train for two weeks. We did that with the national team a couple of times; you train up there for two weeks and then you come back down. So I know what it's like. But coming in for one day, it's maybe going to be hard for a couple of guys getting used to the thin air. But it's quick in and out, so it's not going to be that dramatic."
Calvin Pickard is expected to start in goal for the Avalanche. He is 13-27-2 on the season with a pair of shutouts, a 2.91 GAA and a .907 save pct.
All Lined Up - Washington did not conduct a morning skate prior to Wednesday's game against Colorado, so we won't be certain of the Capitals' lineup until pregame warm-ups. Here's our best guess at how the Caps and Avs will look at puck drop for Wednesday's game:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
90-Johansson, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Williams
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 65-Burakovsky
26-Winnik, 83-Beagle, 43-Wilson
92-Landeskog, 37-Compher, 9-Duchene
10-Andrighetto, 29-MacKinnon, 96-Rantanen
34-Soderberg, 25-Grigorenko, 14-Comeau
17-Bourque, 7-Mitchell, 83-Nieto