Colorado is the hottest team in the NHL right now, but that storyline is secondary in its matchup against Washington on Thursday night in Denver.
While the Avalanche have put together a nice run, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin's pursuit of history is the dominant theme in this clash of Stanley Cup contenders.
Ovechkin has been sitting on 698 career goals for the past two games, and while it has created quite a buzz it has also been somewhat of a distraction. Ovechkin had a hat trick against Los Angeles last week to put him within two goals of 700 but he hasn't scored since.
The Capitals haven't won, either. Two blowout losses have the team trying to hit the reset button, and for now it will have to do so without center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who left Monday's 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders and didn't return.
Washington has announced that Kuznetsov will not play against Colorado due to an upper-body injury but he is on the three-game road trip, which could indicate he won't miss many games.
The Avalanche will again play without center Nazem Kadri due to a lower-leg injury suffered against Minnesota on Sunday. He is out indefinitely.
The Capitals have dropped three of their last four games but still sit in first place in the Metropolitan Division. They come into Thursday's game needing to turn things around and not put so much focus on Ovechkin's milestone.
"I don't know if it's a distraction," forward Tom Wilson told The Washington Post of Ovechkin's pursuit. "Maybe it is. In the NHL, when you're a professional, you're supposed to deal with what's going on around you. It's not always a great day at home. It's not always a great day at the rink. You come to the rink, and you've got to perform."
The Avalanche haven't had a problem performing anywhere of late. Colorado has won five in a row and eight of its last nine to pull within a point of St. Louis in the Northwest Division, entering Wednesday's games.
The Avalanche and Capitals rank first and second, respectively, in goals per game in the NHL but lately it has been Colorado's defense that is making a difference. The Avalanche have allowed just five goals during their winning streak, and goaltender Philipp Grubauer has been especially sharp.
He had 34 saves in posting his second shutout of the season against Ottawa on Tuesday night and he has allowed just three goals in his last four games.
Grubauer was quick to give credit to his teammates, who have bought into playing better defense since a 6-3 loss at Philadelphia on Feb. 1.
"Defense is a mental thing. Anybody can do it if you have the right mentality," said forward Mikko Rantanen, who had a goal against the Senators. "That's what we've been doing the last five games. With our four lines everybody can score, but everybody has to defend as well. That's why we're winning."
--Field Level Media