WASHINGTON — The Colorado Avalanche are in last place in the Central Division, but they have a little reason for optimism after recording a 2-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins in Pittsburgh on Monday night.
“Gutsy. Liked it,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said after the win, his team’s second straight.
The Avalanche will carry that momentum into a game against the Capitals in Washington on Tuesday.
The Capitals have the Avalanche to thank for helping spark their own resurgence, especially on offense this season.
After the Avalanche (14-13-2) blasted the Capitals 6-2 at home on Nov. 16, Washington began to turn things around, thanks in part to a lengthy stretch of games at home.
That loss in Colorado was the Capitals’ second defeat in a row, the last time Washington dropped back-to-back games. Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog scored just 17 seconds in, and he ended up with a hat trick.
The Capitals won eight of their next 10, and they had won four in a row before losing 3-1 to the New York Islanders in Brooklyn on Monday.
Rookies Madison Bowey and Chandler Stephenson are adding depth to the Capitals (18-12-1).
“My game has definitely improved a lot throughout the last two months already,” Bowey told the Washington Post. “It’s just going to keep on building and keep on getting better as the season goes on. Obviously, this is definitely exciting and a big step ahead in the right direction for me.”
Stephenson, who had an assist Monday against the Islanders, has tried to keep a consistent frame of mind.
“It just goes back to the saying of don’t let the highs get too high or the lows get too low, because usually when you do let them get too high, that’s when it comes crashing down,” Stephenson told the Washington Post.
The Capitals fell behind 3-0 early in the second period against the Islanders on Monday and could not recover as starting goalie Braden Holtby was pulled. Dmitry Orlov had the only Washington goal — his third of the year. The Capitals are allowing nearly four goals per game on the road.
“We didn’t help Holtby,” Orlov said. “Hopefully we will be better tomorrow.”
Colorado (14-13-2) could use more help from forward Nail Yakupov, who was scratched for the third game in a row Monday. His latest absence was due to illness, but he was a healthy scratch for each of the previous two contests.
Yakupov, a six-year NHL veteran, is in his first season with the Avalanche. He has just 10 points in 26 games this season.
“I like what some other guys are doing better,” Bednar told the Denver Post.
Colorado has its own share of younger players, such as Sam Girard. The rookie defenseman has a goal and two assists in 15 games for the Avalanche after he produced a goal and two assists in five games for the Nashville Predators earlier this season. He was acquired in the three-team trade that sent Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators.
“It’s a process. It’s my rookie year,” he told the Denver Post. “When I am on the ice, I try to do my best.”