While looking to add to his case for another MVP, Alex Ovechkin will try to help the Washington Capitals apply more pressure on the Metropolitan Division leaders.
To get two more points in Thursday night’s opener to a lengthy homestand, the Capitals will have to get through a Minnesota Wild team that’s proved quite adept at stifling opponents lately.
Ovechkin has scored two goals in each of Washington’s back-to-back wins after tallying just one in a four-game stretch that included three consecutive defeats to end February. He scored the winning goal for the second straight contest Tuesday in a 5-3 victory in Columbus.
"The guys did their jobs," Ovechkin said. "They really stepped up. Now, this is a good time for us to stick together."
The three-time MVP leads the league with 10-game winners and 43 goals overall, including 21 in the past 22 games along with nine assists.
He’s a major reason the Capitals (35-20-10) have an 11-point lead on a playoff spot and remain well within striking distance of the Metropolitan lead. They’ll get a season-high five consecutive home games beginning Thursday but will face one of the NHL’s hottest teams in the opener.
Minnesota (34-22-7) has won 14 of 17 and shook off a blown two-goal lead for its third straight victory Tuesday, a 3-2 shootout win over Ottawa. Matt Dumba scored both of the Wild’s goals in the first 8:05 of the second period, and Devan Dubnyk improved to 16-3-1 since joining the team in a trade with Arizona on Jan. 14.
"It feels good doing this, so we want to keep this going for sure," Dumba said.
Dubnyk has started all 21 of Minnesota’s games since being acquired, posting a 1.65 goals-against average. The Wild have allowed 11 goals in the past seven games.
They head to the nation’s capital carrying a four-game road win streak, their longest since March 9-25, 2013. They are 0-3-1 in their last four games in Washington, though, and 1-5-1 all-time there.
Minnesota did win the teams’ most recent meeting, 5-3 on Jan. 4, 2014, but coach Mike Yeo knows earning another victory over the Capitals will be challenging.
"It seems like Ovechkin scores every game. Their power play is just on fire and tough to deal with on its own. They’re a lot more than that, too. They’re playing a team game that they believe in," Yeo said. "They’re playing pretty solid defensively, and they’re all bought in, so it’s going to be a good challenge."
The Capitals have one of the league’s best power-play conversion rates at 23.9 percent, and Ovechkin scored his NHL-leading 19th power-play goal Tuesday.
Minnesota, though, has allowed one goal in its last 48 times short-handed. That’s helped the Wild keep rolling despite a power play that’s 1 for 18 in the last nine games.
Dubnyk has given up a combined nine goals in his two games against Washington, the latest a 6-5 road win for Arizona on Nov. 2.
Ovechkin scored one of those five goals and assisted on three others. He has four goals and two assists in his last five games versus Minnesota.