Center Evgeny Kuznetsov will miss the Colorado game after not practicing the past two days because of an upper-body injury, but will travel with the team in hopes he can play against the Coyotes or Golden Knights. Center Lars Eller is expected to take Kuznetsov’s place as the second line center against the Avalanche.
Kuznetsov “keeps making steps in the right direction, so we will keep him in the same program that we have him on now with hopes to get him on the ice as soon as possible,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said.
The team has carried seven defensemen the past three games, with Martin Fehervary called up from the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa. However, he was not recalled for the road trip. The defensive pairings will revert to what they have been for the majority of the season, with Michal Kempny and John Carlson on the top pairing, Dmitry Orlov and Nick Jensen on the second and Jonas Siegenthaler and Radko Gudas on the third.
Injuries and personnel changes aside, the Capitals are looking to address “fixable errors” that have plagued the team the past two outings. They gave up 12 goals combined in those two games and are 1-4-0 in their past five at home. Team defense has been a problem, and the players have taken responsibility for their lack of execution in the defensive zone.
“I think it’s just mental mistakes and not being simple or not making plays that we can read off easily,” forward T.J. Oshie said. “They are happening all over the ice, which is very uncharacteristic for us, but you know, we’ll get some video and try to clean up. Maybe the forwards can get back for our ‘D’ a little bit better. Maybe our ‘D’ can make different reads. We are kind of hanging our goalies out to dry here.”
Defenseman Nick Jensen said the struggles are a reminder that an erosion of good habits starts slowly and can spiral until “it starts to fall deeper and deeper out of control."
“I just think we can play better as a five-man unit all over the ice,” Reirden said. “I think that mistakes are going to happen. . . . If you are playing in a five-man unit, then when mistakes happen you are able to provide a layer of support.”
The Capitals hope that getting away after their four-game homestand will help the team rediscover its identity. Washington showed flashes of its physical style late against the New York Islanders on Monday and against the Pittsburgh Penguins a week earlier. Now, the team needs to string it together for an entire game.
Reirden said he expected the team to face some sort of adversity this season.
“It happens,” but in the end, he believes it will only benefit the group, he said. “It’s not going to all of a sudden get better for 60 straight minutes against Colorado. It’s something that is a work in progress, and we will continue to analyze it properly.”
The road has been especially good for Washington this season; is it 20-6-1 away from home with the most road wins in the NHL. The team has executed some of its more thrilling comebacks on the road, including in Vancouver in October and at the Islanders before the all-star break.
“It’s a little easier to keep it simple at the start going into the other team’s barn and trying to go at them a little bit,” Oshie said. “We’ve been on our heels a little bit lately, so I think going on the road might help us.”
Washington has won its past three road games. This season, the Capitals have outscored opponents 100-82 on the road and are tied for second in the NHL in road goals.
“Basically we stick together out there,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “We spend more time together off the ice, lots of reasons. We just like to be on the road. . . . I don’t think we have struggles at home. I just think we play a little differently at home than on the road.”
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