The way the Eastern Conference is shaping up, winning the Southeast Division may be the only way into the playoffs for the Washington Capitals.
That isn’t likely to happen if Alexander Ovechkin’s goal-scoring drought goes on much longer.
Ovechkin hopes to inch closer to the 50-goal mark and help the Capitals end a three-game skid Tuesday night when they host the Minnesota Wild for the first time in more than five years.
Washington (28-27-8) has cooled off since moving into first place in the Southeast following a 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Feb. 10. The Capitals are 1-2-3 since that win, dropping them five points behind first-place Carolina.
Most teams can focus on the conference standings as a way into the postseason if a division title is out of reach. Washington, though, is 11th in the East, five points behind Buffalo and Philadelphia, both tied for the final playoff spot.
Ovechkin is the biggest reason why the Capitals have a shot at reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2002-03, but the superstar forward has also played a role in his team’s current struggles.
He hasn’t scored a goal in five straight games, producing four assists in that span. Ovechkin had gone a season-high three consecutive contests without a point before setting up three goals in Washington’s 6-3 loss to the Hurricanes on Saturday.
Despite his slump, Ovechkin leads the NHL with 48 goals and is tied with Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin for the league lead with 82 points. Ovechkin hasn’t gone six consecutive games without a goal since March 30-April 8, 2006 during his rookie season.
The league’s leading goal scorer was limited to one assist in a 2-1 overtime loss to visiting New Jersey on Sunday.
“Sometimes you don’t get the results you desire,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But if we keep pushing through, eventually there’s going to be a three- and four-game win streak. And with 20 games left, you know Carolina’s not winning all 20, so you’ve got to keep pushing on.”
While Ovechkin is struggling, teammate Alexander Semin is red hot.
Semin, who scored a career-best 38 goals last season, has goals in five straight games, matching a career high. Semin also has 13 goals in his last 22 contests after scoring twice in his first 16 games.
The Capitals added some veteran depth in goal before Tuesday’s NHL trading deadline, acquiring Cristobal Huet from Montreal for a 2009 second-round draft pick. Huet was Montreal’s No. 1 goalie this season, and the 2007 All-Star is 21-12-6 with a 2.55 goals-against average.
Washington’s top goalie, Olie Kolzig, is 21-19-6 with a 3.03 GAA on the season.
The Caps also picked up six-time All-Star center Sergei Fedorov from Columbus. Fedorov, 38 years old and in his 17th NHL season, has nine goals and 19 assists this season.
This will be the first stop on a three-game road trip for the Wild (34-23-5), who have dropped out of first place in the Northwest Division with a three-game skid (0-2-1).
“Three (games) in four nights, heading out East to teams we don’t normally play. It will be fun to go out and compete against some different teams, and those are points we need,” Minnesota defenseman Nick Schultz told the Wild’s official Web site.
A 5-4 overtime victory over Nashville on Feb. 17 gave Minnesota a season-high six-point division lead, but now trails Calgary by one point for the top spot.
The Wild are 4-6-0 since Feb. 2, with their wins coming in overtime or a shootout.
“Unfortunately at this time of year, it’s not enough just to go out and work hard,” right wing Mark Parrish said. “You need to pick your level up and play with a playoff type of mentality and that type of style.”
Parrish scored Minnesota’s lone goal in a 2-1 home loss Sunday to the Flames, winners of four in a row.
This is the Wild’s longest winless stretch since they went 0-4-1 from Oct. 24-Nov. 1.
Minnesota has won four straight against the Capitals since a 2-1 loss on Feb. 6, 2002.