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Jan 24, 2024 3:31 am

Well-rested Avalanche face work-in-progress Caps

The NHL did the Colorado Avalanche a big favor when it rolled out the schedule for the season. At least for this week.

Colorado hasn’t played since winning at Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon, getting a three-day break before starting a two-game homestand. The Avalanche return to action Wednesday night against the Washington Capitals, who will be completing a back-to-back road set.

Washington lost 5-3 to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, and it has a quick turnaround to face one of the fastest teams in the league. The Avalanche rank second in the NHL with 177 goals and are coming off scoring seven times against the Flyers. Colorado scored 16 goals while winning two of its past three games.

The Capitals are trying to find some traction now that the season is beyond the halfway point. Coach Spencer Carbery made defenseman Ethan Bear a healthy scratch against the Wild and shuffled his lines for the Tuesday game.

Struggling Evgeny Kuznetsov, dropped to the fourth line against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, was moved to the third line at Minnesota.

It is an attempt to generate more offense for a team that has been shut out five times this year, including against the Blues on Saturday. Kuznetsov managed an assist vs. the Wild, just his second during a nine-game goal-scoring drought.

T.J. Oshie was on the Capitals’ top line with Dylan Strome and Max Pacioretty, while Alex Ovechkin was on the second line with Connor McMichael and Aliaksei Protas.

Carbery flipped his lines after the Capitals fell behind 3-0 to the Wild, and Washington got two goals from Anthony Mantha and one from Oshie in the failed comeback attempt.

“It’s hard chasing,” Mantha said postgame, according to NHL.com. “That’s not what you want. I think we knew we had to step up today (and) unfortunately we didn’t really do it. The good news is we get 20 hours and we’re back at it. Tomorrow’s a big test again, and we need to be ready.”

The Capitals now face a Colorado team that has won nine of its past 12 games.

The Avalanche’s extra rest might mean Artturi Lehkonen will return to the lineup after missing 35 games with a neck injury. Lehkonen was playing well before getting hurt. He could help Colorado overcome the absence of Valeri Nichushkin, who entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program on Jan. 15.

Nichushkin is the second Avalanche player to enter the program. Samuel Girard sought treatment for anxiety and depression in November, and he returned in six weeks.

Lehkonen, a first-line forward, has made a difference since coming over in a trade-deadline deal two years ago. He scored the overtime goal that sent Colorado to the 2022 Stanley Cup Final, and he has three goals and five assists in 12 games this season.

“It’s huge for us,” teammate Andrew Cogliano said of Lehkonen’s pending return. “He’s such an important part of what we’ve got going on here. He encompasses kind of what our team is about in terms of work and playing on both sides of the puck. He just does it all.

“Just a huge addition. Having him out for this long has been some tough minutes to fill. He’s a phenomenal player, a great guy, great teammate and a guy you want when crunch time comes.”

–Field Level Media

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