Conference-leading Capitals and Wild seek to hold their leads
WASHINGTON — The Washington Capitals find themselves in an unfamiliar position as they prepare to host the Minnesota Wild in a matchup of the league’s conference leaders on Tuesday.
With Sunday’s 5-2 defeat at Anaheim, the Capitals have lost four in a row for the first time since November 2014. More importantly, the Capitals and Penguins are each have 95 points, though Washington’s 44 wins are one more than Pittsburgh with 14 games remaining.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are one point behind and the New York Rangers are five points back. While Columbus has 14 games remaining, the Capitals have two games in hand with New York.
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Washington has gone six straight contests with two goals or less after getting outscored 17-8 in the last four games.
And while no one is pushing the panic button, the Capitals realize they have to get things back on track with the playoffs looming, which is why they held a players’ meeting after losing to the Ducks to cap a 0-3 California trip.
“This is going to be a big game for us,” Washington defenseman Nate Schmidt told reporters after Sunday’s loss. “To be at home for a little while will be good, especially when you are playing such a strong team in Minnesota, the best in the West. You have to be able to get out of this little funk that we’re in and play the 60-minute game that we were so accustomed to playing at the beginning of the year.”
Washington has won three straight against the Wild and five of six against Minnesota at home. Under former Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, the Wild have developed into a Western power, but have lost four of their last six and know they are skating into hostile environment.
“We’re playing the best team in the league and at probably the maddest point they’ve been in two years, so we better be ready,” Boudreau told the team’s website after practice Monday.
The Capitals average 3.19 goals per game, but the problem recently is that star winger Alexander Ovechkin has been held in check. Washington’s captain is amid a 10-game scoreless streak, the first time in his illustrious career that has happened.
“He’s going to get out of it one day,” Boudreau said. “I hope it’s not (Tuesday).”
Ovechkin, for his part, is less concerned about his own drought than Washington’s slump.
“The next one is going to be a huge opportunity against Minnesota. We have to bounce back,” Ovechkin said. “We don’t remember when we lose four in a row and that’s a good thing. It’s nice that it happens right now before the playoffs than during the playoffs. It’s frustrating because the puck won’t go in, but we have to work harder and fight through it.”
The game likely will feature two of the league’s top netminders, though both Washington’s Braden Holtby and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk have struggled recently. Holtby has allowed 12 goals in his last three starts, and Dubnyk was yanked Sunday in the first five minutes of a 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, who are one point behind the Wild in the Western Conference.
“We had a good talk this morning and he’s the guy we’re leaning on,” Boudreau said of Dubnyk. “(Sunday) was a special circumstance. He’s our guy and we’ll live and die with him.”
The Capitals still will be without newly acquired defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who will serve the second of his two-game suspension for a charging penalty assessed last Saturday. Minnesota center Martin Hanzal is expected to be inactive with the flu.