With the regular season entering its final two months, points are at a premium, particularly for the Washington Capitals.
Washington is outside the playoff picture with 31 games remaining but was able to get three out of a possible four points in a back-to-back set over the weekend. The Capitals will try to get two more points when they host the struggling Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.
It is the second and final game between the teams this season. Colorado won the first matchup, 6-2, in Denver on Jan. 24 behind Nathan MacKinnon’s four goals, including a natural hat trick in the second period.
Things haven’t gone well lately for the Avalanche, who are 0-3-1 on their six-game road trip and were shut out 4-0 at Florida on Saturday night.
The four losses out of the All-Star break came after Colorado went 13-3-1 heading into its nine-day layoff, and the sluggish performance against the Panthers prompted a players-only meeting following the loss.
“I’ve never really had this in my five years here,” star defenseman Cale Makar said. “You’ve got to be ready to go. That’s our jobs. It’s professional hockey, so if you’re not ready, you’re doing something wrong.
“Every individual in this room knows their role. It’s just having to execute and sometimes it gets away from us. This is not something we’re super familiar with.”
MacKinnon has been held in check in the past three games after having a 14-game point streak and has fallen off the pace for the NHL scoring lead. More important, the team has lost ground in the Central Division.
The Avalanche can salvage points on this trip with wins against Washington and Tampa Bay on Thursday night but face a Capitals team determined to climb in the standings. The Capitals lost a tough one in overtime Sunday to Vancouver but have played better and harder of late.
“Our guys were able to play at that pace,” Washington coach Spencer Carbery said. “Now we’ve just got to sustain that. It’s hard. It’s challenging. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of details. It takes every single guy on the same page with how it looks.
“It’s difficult, but that’s our challenge in front of us — to do that night in, night out, shift to shift.”
The Capitals will likely have Darcy Kuemper in net against the team he backstopped to the Stanley Cup championship two seasons ago. Charlie Lindgren started the game in Denver last month and allowed all six goals on 31 shots.
Kuemper lost both games against Colorado last season and has struggled lately. He has lost the past four games he has been in net — three of them starts — and has allowed 13 goals in that span.
If Washington has hopes of getting one of the two wild-card slots in the Eastern Conference, it will need to win its home games. After Tuesday night, the Capitals play 10 of their next 15 games on the road, including games against teams ahead of them in the standings.