When the Capitals and Wild meet Tuesday night at Verizon Center, the game will pit a pair of top teams still searching to rediscover their pre-bye week mojo.
Mired in a rare four-game losing streak, the Caps are 5-6-1 since the bye and have conceded significant ground Metropolitan Division.
In fact, Washington headed into the six-day hiatus last month with nine-point advantage on the Blue Jackets, Rangers and Penguins. Now, that lead has been whittled to just a single point over Pittsburgh, which can leapfrog the Caps with a win in Calgary on Monday night.
Minnesota, meanwhile, sits atop the Western Conference standings. But the Wild have also struggled to regain their footing coming out of the bye, going 4-4-0 in the last eight games. Their most recent loss, a 4-2 setback in Chicago on Sunday, allowed the Blackhawks to pull within a point of them in the conference and Central Division standings.
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“I don’t know the answer,” former Caps and current Wild bench boss Bruce Boudreau said, asked why so many teams have slumped after the bye. “But one of the thoughts is we’re playing at the same level that we were playing, but [for] other teams it’s a real state of urgency that they’re in at this time. And they’re playing way above where they would have played previously.”
Speaking after practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Boudreau added: “I think it's time for us and other teams [to] step our game up 10 or 20 percent, like the rest of the teams in the league are doing.”
For Washington, which was off Monday as the team traveled back from the West Coast, the game against Minnesota opens an import stretch. The Caps are tied for the most home wins in the league—27—and they'll now get the chance to steady themselves on F Street, where they play five of the next six games.
Boudreau said he suspects that with less than a month left in the regular season, teams like the Caps and Wild are going to begin ramping up their collective focus and urgency after coasting for a bit.
“It’s the time of the year and our sense of urgency, whether it’s the Caps or whether it’s us…it’s not there yet,” Boudreau said. “But when you have to win the games, I think you’ll see these teams step up and play really good hockey.”
Boudreau expressed a similar sentiment when asked about his former star player Alex Ovechkin, who hasn’t scored a goal in 10 games. The drought is the longest of Ovi's illustrious career.
“He’s going to get out of it one day,” Boudreau said with a chuckle. “I just hope it’s not tomorrow.”
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