Darcy Kuemper got his Stanley Cup ring when Colorado visited Washington back in November. Now, he'll make his first start in Denver as a visitor since backstopping last year's championship run.
He'll do so against an Avalanche team that seems to have rediscovered the mojo that made it a champion in winning five straight after hitting rock bottom in a loss to Chicago, that may be getting back a Norris Trophy winner if Cale Makar is ready to play tonight.
And Washington has not been at its best lately, dropping roughly every other game in 2023. They still have the core that has made them a perennial contender throughout Alex Ovechkin's career, but it's dinged up and aging, and this could be the year they finally miss the playoffs.
The five-game win streak has been fantastic, but it required only one win over a team currently in playoff position and another over a team in the wildcard mix. The team still has a lot to prove to fully feel like they've found their grove again, and beating an Eastern Conference wildcard hopeful would be a significant next step.
Offensively, the goals are going in again, and the forward corps is looking great putting them there. Led by a stellar week from Nathan MacKinnon, Artturi Lehkonen, and Alex Newhook, Colorado's top end looked deadly, and its depth gritted out points of its own consistently for the first time all season.
The back end was a little dicier, as Cale Makar's injury absence and the staff's decision to go with seven defensemen meant all of Brad Hunt, Andreas Englund, Jacob MacDonald, and Kurtis MacDermid saw significant ice time. Hunt looked great, Englund solid, MacDonald passable, and MacDermid was... himself. Listen to yesterday's Mile High Hockey Lab Podcast if you want to hear how we really feel about that.
Artturi Lehkonen (62) - Nathan MacKinnon (29) - Evan Rodrigues (9)
Valeri Nichushkin (13) - J.T. Compher (37) - Mikko Rantanen (96)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Alex Newhook (18 - Logan O'Connor (25)
Anton Blidh (36) - Ben Meyers (59) - Jacob MacDonald (26)
Devon Toews (7) - Erik Johnson (6)
Samuel Girard (49) - Brad Hunt (17)
Kurtis MacDermid (56) - Andreas Englund (88)
UPDATE: Cale Makar is OUT tonight, according to Jared Bednar, after being previously listed as a game-time decision.
Alex Ovechkin is still cooking, with 30 goals already halfway through this season. His pursuit of Gretzky's all-time record is the most exciting thing about this team, though, as it seems their days as a true championship contender are in the past.
Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dylan Strome have been effective point producers in Nicolas Backstrom's extended injury absence, and his return, along with Tom Wilson, has added depth to the offense. They are still middle of the pack in goal-scoring league-wide at 3.18 goals per game.
On the back end, John Carlson remains out, and the lineup without him lacks offensive flair but is solid defensively. Erik Gustafsson has put together a quality season on a one-year prove-it deal, but overall this is an exploitable group.
Alex Ovechkin (8) - Dylan Strome (17) - Conor Sheary (73)
Sonny Milano (15) - Nicklas Backstrom (19) - Tom Wilson (43)
Marcus Johansson (90) - Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) - Garnet Hathaway (21)
Anthony Mantha (39) - Lars Eller (20) - Nicolas Aube-Kubel (96)
Erik Gustafsson (56) - Trevor van Riemsdyk (57)
Dmitry Orlov (9) - Nick Jensen (3)
Alexander Alexeyev (27) - Martin Fehervary (42)
Alexandar Georgiev and Pavel Francouz have been dominant forces in this winning streak, and Calgary coach Darryl Sutter called them the best tandem in the league. Francouz started the last game in Seattle, so Georgiev will likely get the net tonight.
Darcy Kuemper earned a big contract with the Capitals, and so far, he's living up to it with a .917 save percentage. Backup Charlie Lindgren has been solid, but if Washington wants to beat the red-hot Avs, they'll need Kuemper in net.