The Washington Capitals’ four-game win streak has come to a close, but the team is looking to close out their brief West Coast trip with a win against the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs are a hot team, as they sit at the top of the Central Division. It’s no secret that as a whole, the Western Conference is far stronger than its Eastern counterpart, and Colorado is a perfect example of this.
The Avalanche have won thirteen of fifteen games so far this season, while the Caps have been struggling to find their feet. Their most recent loss came last night against a strong Phoenix Coyotes team, in which Washington surrendered a 3-1 lead in the space of several minutes. When the score remained tied through the end of the third period and overtime, the Capitals fell in a shootout for the first time under Adam Oates.
The Caps must abandon a mentality of comfort. They’re a team infamous for surrendering leads and allowing goals shortly after they’ve scored. While these terrible habits are not specific to the Caps, the team must eradicate them regardless.
Against Phoenix, Washington played an iffy first period, came out strong in the second, and lapsed in the third. This cannot happen – the Avs will make smart plays and outmaneuver the Caps. With a talented offensive lineup, Colorado will be out for blood in lieu of the teams’ previous meeting, which was a 5-1 loss on home ice for Washington.
That matchup, which took place early in October, saw the Caps muster 41 shots – forty of which were saved by former goalie Semyon Varlamov. Jean-Sebastien Giguere will likely be in net for Colorado tonight, especially in light of recent controversy surrounding Varlamov. Regardless of who sits between the Avs’ pipes, the Capitals must do more than put a barrage of shots on goal and remember that it’s sometimes just about quality, not quantity.
The Avalanche is a great example. Even with a mediocre power play percentage of 19.1%, the team is an offensive powerhouse. In their most recent win, Colorado scored both at even-strength and on the power play, demonstrating that prowess. And they can defend, too – which will be a concern for Washington on both ends of the ice.
If the Capitals wish to return home with at least one point, they have to play smart hockey. Smart doesn’t equate flashy; it means abandoning theatrics when necessary. The Avalanche will prey upon the Caps’ defensive shortcomings, and to compensate, they must be ready to wear down their opponent’s defense. Braden Holtby can expect plenty of shots on goal tonight, and they won’t all be pretty, as evidenced in last night’s loss. But maybe a loss was just what the Caps needed: a harsh reminder that no winning streak is safe, and luck will only take them so far. Hopefully they can use their frustration as motivation to secure a win.