The Washington Capitals need to reverse course in a hurry if they wish to punch their ticket to the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season.
Losers of three in a row and six of their last eight, the Capitals (33-31-8, 74 points) aim to get back on track Thursday when they host the Chicago Blackhawks (24-40-6, 54 points).
Washington was left smarting after squandering an early three-goal lead and a late one-goal advantage in a 7-6 overtime setback to the NHL-worst Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday. The Capitals allowed a tying goal with 46.9 seconds remaining in the third period before Columbus native Jack Roslovic scored in overtime.
“Everybody realizes exactly where we’re at and what needs to be done,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said.
Washington enters play on Wednesday residing five points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with 10 games remaining.
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin scored his 40th goal of the season on Tuesday, marking the 13th season that he has reached that plateau. He eclipsed a record he shared with Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky in that respect. He also became the fifth player to reach 40 goals in a season at age 37 or older — joining Hall of Famers Gordie Howe, Johnny Bucyk, Brendan Shanahan and Phil Esposito.
“Yeah, it’s a pretty cool moment,” the 37-year-old Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of record it is. It’s a record, you know?
“I’m just trying to enjoy my time, trying to do my best.”
Ovechkin certainly did well in his last meeting against the Blackhawks on Dec. 13, collecting three goals and an assist in Washington’s 7-3 romp in Chicago. He became the third NHL player with 800 career goals in that game, and he has since moved past Howe (801) to reside 74 shy of tying Gretzky (894) for the all-time lead.
As for the Blackhawks, they found themselves in a familiar spot on Monday: without a goal. Chicago was shut out for the eighth time in a 5-0 setback to the Colorado Avalanche.
The Blackhawks hung tough early in the game before yielding a power-play goal midway into the second period to fall into a 3-0 deficit.
“The third (goal on the) power play was a little deflating, but that happens,” Chicago defenseman Caleb Jones said after the team’s ninth loss in the last 12 games (3-8-1).
“We skated with them pretty good in the first period, but their strength and speed pushed us back,” Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson said. “We had some chances — not quite as many high-quality chances as they did — but unfortunately we couldn’t get that one to … keep us into the game.”
Petr Mrazek is expected to rejoin the team in Washington after removing himself from a March 14 contest due to a groin injury. He had turned aside all 16 shots he faced in that game against the Boston Bruins after losing his previous five decisions (0-4-1).
Mrazek, however, permitted all seven goals in the previous clash versus the Capitals. He is 5-8-2 with a 3.02 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in 15 career meetings against Washington.
–Field Level Media