The Washington Capitals visit the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second meeting of the year between the two teams. The Blue Jackets beat the Capitals the first time the two teams met, 2-1 at Capital One Arena on November 9. Action from Nationwide Arena will be televised on NBC Sports Washington starting at 7 PM on Saturday night.
The Capitals finish up a three-game road trip in Columbus on Saturday night. After opening it with a 5-3 loss at the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday, their second consecutive loss after winning seven in a row, the team bounced back with a 4-2 win at the Arizona Coyotes despite trailing 1-0 and 2-1. Forward Andre Burakovsky gave the Capitals the game-winning goal with four minutes left in the game.
With the team not practicing on Friday, the status of forward Tom Wilson for Saturday’s showdown in Columbus is unclear. Wilson, 24, missed Thursday’s game in Arizona after getting hit high in the shoulder by Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves. He has posted eight goals and 14 points and 11 games this season. Forward T.J. Oshie will miss his 11th consecutive game with a concussion but is skating back in Washington, meaning he is taking a step towards returning.
Captain Alex Ovechkin comes into Saturday night’s game riding a 10-game point-streak, where he has recorded nine goals and 14 points in that span. He has scored a goal in each of the past two games and six of his past seven outings. Ovechkin, 33, is tied with Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point and Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine for the league lead with 21 goals and is tied with center Nicklas Backstrom for the team lead with 34 points.
The Capitals recalled forward Riley Barber from the Hershey Bears and placed Oshie on injured reserve on Friday. Oshie, 31, was hit in the head by Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey in the Capitals’ 3-1 loss to the Jets on November 14. Barber, 24, leads the Bears with 18 points this season. He will likely be a healthy scratch but maybe not if Wilson or someone else does not go on Saturday night.
The Capitals and the Blue Jackets are separated by a point for top spot in the Metropolitan Division with both teams playing 28 games entering Friday night’s slate of NHL action.
Goaltender Braden Holtby will likely start against the Blue Jackets tomorrow night. The 29-year old is 10-7-2 with a save percentage of .907, a goals-against average of 3.00, and one shutout this season this season. Lifetime against Columbus, Holtby is 14-5-2 with a save percentage of .915, a goals-against average of 2.60, and one shutout.
The Blue Jackets kick off a six-game homestand against the Capitals on Saturday night at Nationwide Arena. They come in with a win in their most recent game, a defeat of the Philadelphia Flyers on the road by a score of 4-3 on Thursday night. Earlier in the week, they were featured in one of the wildest games of the season, a 9-6 loss to the Calgary Flames at home on Tuesday.
Columbus forward Cam Atkinson is rolling as he enters Saturday night’s tilt with the Capitals in the midst of a 12-game point-streak, where he has recorded 13 goals and 20 points in that span. The 29-year old winger leads the team with 19 goals and is tied with forward Artemi Panarin for the team-lead with 31 points.
The Blue Jackets rank fifth in the NHL with an average of 3.57 goals-per-game, right behind the Capitals for fourth. The Capitals average 3.61 goals-per-game. Despite containing a high-flying offense, Columbus ranks only 24th in the NHL with a conversion rate of 16.3% on the man advantage. They are not such a great penalty-killing team with their unit ranked 21st in the league, killing off 77.6% of the penalties they take.
Despite Columbus’ early season success, they will have to make some big decisions down the road as Panarin and star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who is having a down year by his standards going only 11-9-0 with a save percentage of .901 and a goals-against average of 3.04. Neither has committed to staying in Columbus long-term and both have stated that they will not negotiate a contract during the season. We could possibly see both headed out the door in a matter of months after seeing how the New York Islanders lost captain John Tavares for nothing in free agency.
Bobrovsky, 30, will likely start against the Capitals, who he is 8-10-4 with a save percentage of .904 and a goals-against average of 2.93 in his career against.
-Ovechkin enters Saturday’s game one power-play goal shy of passing Mario Lemieux (236) for seventh place on the NHL power-play goals list.
-Forward Jakub Vrana’s nine goals at even strength are second on the team behind Ovechkin’s 13; he has three goals in his past two games
-The Capitals are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and have recorded at least three goals in 10 straight games for the first time since Feb. 7 through Feb. 26, 2016
A Look Back In Time
After dropping the first two games at home in the 2018 First Round Series between the two teams, Wilson tipped defenseman Matt Niskanen‘s shot from the point to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead 5:52 into the second period. After Columbus tied it, defenseman John Carlson unleashed a howitzer from the point on a 5-on-3. Panarin tied it on a give-and-go with Atkinson on a 2-on-1 4:12 into the third period. The game would go to overtime but nothing was solved in the first overtime. It would remain tied until nine minutes into the second overtime, when forward Brett Connolly shot the puck and was stopped by Bobrovsky until it hit a Columbus skater’s stick and off of center Lars Eller‘s skate to give the Capitals life in the series. The win would be the first of 16 the Capitals would win to go on to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. After not starting the first two games of the playoffs, Holtby made 33 saves in his first start of the playoffs in the 3-2 double overtime victory.
By Harrison Brown