ARLINGTON, VA. – The much-anticipated 1-vs.-1 showdown between the Wild and Washington Capitals has taken a different narrative now that both teams enter their first of two meetings this season in the midst of their toughest stretches in months.
The Wild has lost four of its past six games. The Capitals have lost seven of their past 12 and four in a row in regulation for the first time almost 2½ years.
The Wild is in danger of losing its standing atop the Western Conference. The Capitals, too, have led the Eastern Conference since Jan. 15, but the Pittsburgh Penguins reached a tie in the standings in a 4-3 shootout loss Monday night.
What’s more, Alex Ovechkin, who has 10 goals in 10 career games against Minnesota, has gone a franchise-long 10 consecutive games without a goal and 18 games without an even-strength goal.
“He’ll get out of it one day. I just hope it’s not [Tuesday],” quipped Wild coach Bruce Boudreau.
The Capitals had a closed-door team meeting following their loss in Anaheim on Sunday night to end an 0-for-3 California swing. Meanwhile, Boudreau — who began his NHL coaching career guiding Ovechkin and one of his favorite players ever, Nicklas Backstrom, in Washington — scrapped Monday’s planned off-day and practiced his team instead at his old beloved Caps practice facility.
So, each desperate team could be ornery Tuesday night, which could make for an entertaining contest.
The Wild will be without center Martin Hanzal, who has the flu, for the final two games of the road trip, GM Chuck Fletcher said. The Wild planned to recall center Tyler Graovac.
Boudreau said practicing Monday was no punishment. With a snowstorm heading to Washington, he was worried Tuesday’s morning skate could be canceled, and with only two practices since the Wild’s bye in late February, he felt goalie Devan Dubnyk and his teammates needed reps.
In fact, after pulling Dubnyk, who allowed two goals on two shots the day before in Chicago, Boudreau had a “good talk” with the goalie Monday morning and admitted he may have gotten too wound up by facing a multiple-goal deficit for the fourth consecutive game against Chicago, and so quickly.
“And I appreciated that,” Dubnyk said. “I wasn’t upset with the decision at all. I felt fine. I’ve played enough games. I don’t get nervous or rattled. I know my job at that point is to try to make the next save and try to keep it at two, and I was ready to do that. But I completely understand in that situation at that part of the game that you need a spark, and I told him that after.”
Dubnyk has been shaky his past two starts, but Boudreau remains confident in the most consistent goalie he says he has ever had.
“He’s the guy we’re leaning on,” Boudreau said. “He’s our guy, and we’ll live and die with him.”
The Capitals were 17-2-1 entering their mid-February “bye,” averaging 4.65 goals per game in that span. Since then, they’re 5-6-1 with 26 goals scored (2.12 per game). That’s remarkable considering this is a team that before its bye scored five or more goals for 10 consecutive home games. Before being swept on their California trek, the Capitals had their 15-game home winning streak snapped by the Dallas Stars.
Boudreau is surprised by the Capitals’ recent skid.
“They have no weaknesses. They’re a fabulous team,” said Boudreau, who won four division titles in Washington and won the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year in 2008. “They don’t have any missing parts.
“Their fourth line is [Jay] Beagle, [Daniel] Winnik and [Tom] Wilson. Wilson’s a first-round pick, it’s his fourth year, he’s really started to become a player and a force. I had Winnik, loved him as a player. Loved Beagle as a player. That’s your fourth line, all over 6-3 and they come at you.
“Is there a better offensive line than [T.J.] Oshie, Backstrom and Ovechkin? I don’t think so. [Evgeny] Kuznetsov is pretty good on the second line, too. All these guys I had when they were very young. I knew where their talents were, so you knew. They’ve done a great job keeping them together. Eventually they’re going to grow up and they’re going to win it all.”
And, after outplaying the Blackhawks, outshooting them 44-22 and giving up only seven scoring chances but losing, Boudreau badly wants the Wild to beat Washington.
“The whole goal is to show our team, to give them the confidence, quite frankly, that, ‘Look you can play with those guys. See what you’re doing,’ ” Boudreau said. “That’s why they felt so good after the [recent] San Jose win. I mean, San Jose had beaten everybody and all of a sudden we dominate them. The score was only 3-1, but we dominated those guys. You say, ‘See, you can play with these boys.’ That’s what it does.
“That’s how you build up a nest egg.”