The Capitals look to extend their winning streak when they face off against the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday night at Verizon Center. Puck drop is at 7 PM ET on CSN and the NHL Network. A preview of this game, which has massive implications for both Metropolitan division playoff positions and overall home ice advantage, follows.
After a weekend trip to Tampa Bay secured a 5-3 win over the Lightning, the Capitals returned home to beat the hot Calgary Flames 4-2 Tuesday night. The Flames had gone 12-1 in their last 13 games played, a NHL best over that period. Against the Flames, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie were the ones on fire, accounting for 7 of the Caps 11 points. Kevin Shattenkirk had his best game yet as a Cap notching two assists. Andre Burakovsky stole the puck and fed Evgeny Kuznetsov for the ever important first score. And of course, Braden Holtby, playing in his 300th game, with another strong performance; in NHL history, only Ken Dryden has secured more wins in that period of games than Holtby.
Here are some points you need to know ahead of Thursday’s Capitals – Blue Jackets contest:
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
The Columbus Blue Jackets have a record of 10-2-1 in their most recent games played. They are only two standings points behind the Capitals with a game in hand which is getting used up this evening (Wednesday) as Columbus hosts the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 PM ET. So Thursday’s game will be a back-to-back for the Blue Jackets; Capitals must take advantage of this situation, probably with the pace of play.
Here’s a brief listing of Blue Jacket players with their jersey / sweater number in parenthesis:
A key to the Blue Jackets’ resurgence this season starts with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (#72), who is the odds-on favorite to win this season’s Vezina Trophy (best goaltender) over Holtby, Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, and other quality goaltenders. Bobrovsky is top five in several goaltending statistics: save percentage (first), goals-against average (first), wins (first) and shutouts (tied fourth). I’m guessing the Maple Leafs face capable back-up goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (70) and the Caps get Bobrovsky.
Head Coach Tortorella does like to mix the lineup in front of the netminder but here are the most common even strength lines this season:
Nick Foligno (71) – Alexander Wennberg (10) – Brandon Saad (20)
Boone Jenner (38) – Brandon Dubinsky (17) – Cam Atkinson (13)
Matt Calvert (11) – William Karlsson (25) – Josh Anderson (34)
Scott Hartnell (43) – Lukas Sedlak (45) – Sam Gagner (89)
Both Calvert and Sedlak recently returned from injured reserve; while they and other Jackets were injured mid-February (Hartnell at first), AHL call-up Oliver Bjorkstrand (28) did very well on the first and fourth lines so Bjorkstrand continues to get time there.
Defensive line pairings are:
Zach Werenski (8) – Seth Jones (3)
Jack Johnson (7) – David Savard (58)
Kyle Quincey (26) – Markus Nutivaara (65) or Scott Harrington (54)
Six Blue Jackets have two points each against the Capitals this season: Atkinson, Dubinsky, Foligno, Gagner, Wennberg and Werenski.
At the trade deadline, the Blue Jackets acquired Quincey from the New Jersey Devils, and winger Lauri Korpikoski (29) from the Dallas Stars. Quincey has stepped in for Bryan Murray who recently broke his hand in a manner similar to that of Burakovsky. A fast skater, Korpikoski can be a player of choice on the penalty kill unit, or at the very least will serve as an insurance forward.
This season, the Blue Jackets have set and continue to add to franchise records for wins and standing points in a season (previously records were 43 and 93 respectively). They were the second team to clinch a playoff spot this NHL season.
The Blue Jackets are one of two NHL clubs that have yet to win a playoff series; they have qualified for the playoffs twice in their previous fifteen seasons.
The Columbus Blue Jackets scored two penalty shots in their last game, a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils; that’s only the 3rd time in NHL history to have occurred.
To see how statistically close the Blue Jackets and Capitals are this season, take a look at this side-by-side comparison through Tuesday’s results:
*Includes Shattenkirk who has scored his goals with the St. Louis Blues this season. For more on the Blue Jackets, please read this team profile.
METROPOLITAN DIVISION STANDINGS
Results have started to turn in the Washington Capitals favor in the relatively unkind month of March, where they are 5-4-1 in the games played so far. With the playoffs right around the corner, the Capitals’ ten remaining games are important. They want to continue to regain their strong defense and puck possession habits and mostly winning ways. They also want to continue to establish chemistry between Kevin Shattenkirk and Brooks Orpik as a defensive pair as well as with Shattenkirk and the rest of the first power play unit.
Caps break their franchise home wins in a season record with two more wins at Verizon Center. While the team is more focused on winning games and preparing for the playoffs than personal accolades, here’s a status on some individual milestones:
Backstrom is fifth in the NHL’s points race battle, four behind Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid, and one behind the Oilers’ 20 year old forward for the league lead in assists. Backstrom is also two goals shy of passing Bobby Carpenter for eighth place on the franchise goals list.
Caps have three players in the NHL’s plus minus top ten: Orpik is tied for third at +32; Dimitry Orlov is in 6th place at +29; and Oshie is tied for eighth at +27. Karl Alzner is two assists shy of 100 with the Capitals, which would be a pleasant milestone to hit before this season ends.
Braden Holtby remains top five in goals against average (2nd), wins (tied 2nd), save percentage (5th) and shutouts (1st). The Capitals are fending off the Blue Jackets and Sharks for the William M. Jennings Trophy (fewest goals allowed).
MUCH IS ON THE LINE IN CAPS – BLUE JACKETS GAMES
Thursday will be the fourth of five games between the Capitals and Blue Jackets in the 2016-17 regular season; they square off for the final time ten days later in Columbus.
A regulation win by the Capitals, in one of their two remaining contests against the Blue Jackets, would guarantee the Capitals hold the important, third tiebreaker over them in case they are tied on standing points and ROW. The Capitals already hold this tiebreaker over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Blue Jackets hold a slight edge in the season series so far with two wins (one in OT) and one loss. However, the Jackets regulation win will not count if tie breakers need to be employed.
In their last meeting, on January 5th, the Capitals ended the Blue Jackets franchise-record 16-game win streak at the Verizon Center with a 5-0 defeat. Early in the season, the Blue Jackets pulled out wins in two games held in close proximity to one another: on November 15th 2-1 in OT in Columbus and November 20th 3-2 in D.C. Here are clips from the better of these three games:
THE REMAINDER OF THE SCHEDULE
After tomorrow’s contest versus the Blue Jackets, the Capitals have one more game at home, Saturday versus the Arizona Coyotes, before embarking on a five game road trip. The Caps then finish the regular season with two games at home (both the 2nd game of back-to-backs), with a trip to Beantown sandwiched in between.
The Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks are also fighting the Caps and Jackets neck-and-neck for home ice advantage throughout the playoffs; the Capitals have no more regular season games against these two other clubs but the Blue Jackets, Penguins and Blackhawks all play each other once more.
By Tim Foisie