Continuing on a long road trip, this Friday night in the NHL will feature the Washington Capitals facing the Avalanche in Colorado. That’s before they go onto play the second part of their double header, in Phoenix Arizona on Saturday against the Coyotes.
These two teams could not be more different, whereas Washington is enjoying a season of domination, like the Flyers in the East, the Avalanche are desperately fighting for their playoff lives.
In their last 4 Colorado has lost 3. And a loss against the Caps could possible end their season, since they sit 5 points behind the Minnesota Wild, fighting for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, and losing a game in hand could just put the Avalanche under, literally. Going into Minnesota on Thursday night is the Ottawa Senators, with the Wild leading the Avs by five points the Sens could do the Avs a favour, but it’s unlikely since they are not in the run. Both the Wild and the Avs have five games remaining. To get in, the Avs have to win each one.
But Colorado has two key players out with injuries who would otherwise be filling the score sheet; Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon were both out but the good news could be, both might return against the Caps Friday night.
Duchene, who missed the past six games with a knee injury, had a full practice on Thursday with the team and afterwards told media he expected to return to the Colorado lineup Friday at the Pepsi Center.
“I feel good,” the Avalanche’s leading scorer said. “I think I’m ready to go. I skated hard the last four days — five days actually now. … I’m looking forward to it.”
Since the Avalanche have been sitting on the edge of cavernous like abyss, he never considered sitting out the rest of the season: “No, I didn’t,” Duchene said when asked if he would. “I wanted to come back and play. It didn’t matter what was going to happen with us, I wanted to come back and finish this, have some closure on the season.”
Duchene has 29 goals and 56 points, both best stats on the team, in 71 games. Duchene told reporters he suffered the injury just before the midway point of the third period in Vancouver against the Canucks on March 16.
“I didn’t know I was hurt until after the game,” he said. “It was kind of a weird injury, one that you don’t see ever in hockey. It was weird, I didn’t feel it, I thought I was fine. I went to walk to my stall after the game, put the breaks on and started getting dressed and I kind of felt it wiggle a little bit, feel weird and I knew something was wrong. I’ve (hurt) my knees a few times, so I knew something was wrong.”
He is desperately needed, and if he plays he’ll meet a Capitals team who lost a tough and emotional game to the Flyers so they might be down. Also, coach Barry Trotz might be looking to get the perfect combinations before heading into the playoffs, so there could be hiccups where the Avs could score.
The Caps fell victim to Philly who is also fighting for a playoff spot and predictably, since they’ve clinched the Presidents’ Trophy, they could just be playing out their regular-season schedule. And that’s another opportunity for the Avs to snatch since Colorado has an even higher level of urgency.
Washington will want to try to rediscover its scoring touch, despite being 54-16-6, they were outshot for the first time in four games on Wednesday and lost 2-1 in a shootout to Philadelphia, who is two points up on Detroit for the second wild-card spot. It’s also battling the New York Islanders for the first wild card spot which will determine who they play in the first round, if they can sneak in.
Despite Captain Alex Ovechkin scoring on the power play getting his 44th goal the Flyers were able to tie it late, scoring twice on Braden Holtby in the tiebreaker.
“The biggest difference in the two teams is probably the desperation level of Philadelphia,” said coach Barry Trotz, whose club could end up facing the Flyers in the first round. “Ours probably wasn’t as high and it probably shouldn’t be, human nature and all that. At the same time we battled hard.”
The Capitals’ lack of any incentive in the final six games probably is the reason for their lack of offense in the last four games but their coach might not accept that lethargic play. And to boot, Washington isn’t even denying that it isn’t playing its best in these ‘garbage’ games since they have won the Conference and now await their first test of the playoffs.
“I don’t think we answered their intensity,” center Nicklas Backstrom said Wednesday. “I think we have one more level.”
The Avalanche who are 39-34-4 will be bringing the intensity. Just outside the playoff picture, they believe they can catch the Wild for the second wild card, even if the chances are statistically becoming more remote by the day. Unfortunately, their mini-slump leaves Colorado with almost no margin for error.
“At this point, this was a two-point game and we didn’t get it done,” defenseman Chris Bigras said. “That’s disappointing.”
Colorado has only totaled three goals in its last three defeats. Allowigng two power-play goals against the St. Louis Blues, going only 1 for 14 with the man advantage in the past seven games. That has to change and it has to change Friday night.
“We were not perfect,” coach Patrick Roy said. “We took two unnecessary penalties. But this is a special group that never gives up and they kept pushing.”
Head to head, Washington has won the last three meetings in the series and routed Colorado 7-3 in the first game this season that took place on Nov. 21. Tomorrow night could be a repeat.
Caps goalie, Holtby has allowed two or fewer goals in six of his past seven starts and that hardly seems like it will change, while the Avalanche’s Semyon Varlamov has given up three in each of his past five games. Varlamov is unpredictable though and could pull through and steal a game when it counts, since he is 2-1-0 with a 1.35 goals-against average against Washington in his career.
Tired from a long trip probably the Caps just want to get home, and so we’ll give the underdogs a chance and see if the Avs hopes don’t come crashing down.
Our Pick: Avs over Caps, 5-3