Photo: Union and Blue
The Washington Capitals host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night for the third meeting between the two teams this season. The Blue Jackets beat the Capitals, 2-1, on November 9 at Capital One Arena before the Capitals blanked the Blue Jackets, 4-0, on December 6 at Nationwide Arena. Action from D.C. can be seen NBC Sports Washington, beginning at 7 PM.
The Blue Jackets begin a set of back-to-back games on Saturday night. Following tomorrow night’s tilt, Columbus will host the New York Rangers on Sunday evening in their second game in less than 24 hours. After Sunday night’s tilt with the Rangers, the team hits the road for three consecutive games.
Columbus has won seven out of their past 10 games and enter Friday night’s slate of NHL action one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for second in the Metropolitan Division. When they wake up on Saturday, they will have a game in hand on Pittsburgh. They are 13-7-1 away from home.
They average 3.23 goals-per-game, which is good for ninth in the NHL but are in the middle of the pack defensively, averaging 3.07 goals-against per game. Their main weakness comes on the man advantage, where they rank 29th in the league with an efficiency of 14.2%. The Blue Jackets are 11th in the NHL with a penalty-killing efficiency of 80.9%.
In a contract year, forward Artemi Panarin leads the Blue Jackets with 32 assists and 47 points in 41 games a season after posting a career-high 55 assists and 82 points in 81 games. The 27-year old’s future in Columbus is unclear as he is non-committed towards staying and could be moved by the trade deadline on February 25. Panarin scored two goals in the Blue Jackets’ last game, a 4-3 overtime win over the Nashville Predators on Thursday. Forward Cam Atkinson leads Columbus with 24 goals in 42 games.
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who was suspended by the team against the Predators for unknown reasons, will start against the Capitals on Saturday. Bobrovsky, who can also become an unrestricted free agent after this season and could also be dealt at the deadline, is 18-13-1 with a save percentage of .906, a goals-against average of 2.87, and two shutouts this year. Lifetime against the Capitals, the 30-year old is 8-11-4 with a save percentage of .901, a goals-against average of 3.02, and two shutouts.
The Capitals begin a two-game homestand on Saturday against the Blue Jackets. After Saturday night’s game, the St. Louis Blues come to town on Monday night. The team is in a stretch where it plays 11 of 14 games at Capital One Arena, where they are 13-6-2 this season.
Washington has won three straight games after going 0-2-1 in a three-game losing streak. They have won 19 of 25 games (19-5-1) to give themselves a three-point cushion over the Penguins for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division and put them in a tie with the Toronto Maple Leafs for third in the NHL (58 points).
Captain Alex Ovechkin leads the league with 32 goals and the Capitals with 49 points in 43 games this season. After scoring one goal in a span of 10 games, the 32-year old forward scored twice in the Capitals’ 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night. Defenseman John Carlson leads the team with 35 assists.
While the Capitals’ average of 3.49 goals-per-game ranks sixth in the NHL, their star players have hit a dry spell. Center Nicklas Backstrom scored his first goal since December 2 in Thursday’s win over the Bruins, center Evgeny Kuznetsov has not scored since December 2 and has only one even-strength goal this season, and Carlson has scored only one goal, an empty-netter, since October 19. The team’s power play has also hit a bit of a rock, falling to 13th in the NHL with an efficiency of 21.2% after sticking in the top-five for the first few months of the season.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 17-10-2 with a save percentage of .912, a goals-against 2.86, and two shutouts this season, will start against Columbus on Saturday. He is coming off one of his best performances of the seasons, making 39 saves against the Bruins on Thursday. In his career against the Blue Jackets, the 29-year old is 15-5-2 with a save percentage of .919, a goals-against average of 2.48, and two shutouts.
-Forward Jakub Vrana scored the Capitals’ first goal of the game against the Bruins, the most on the team and his eight first period goals lead the Capitals
-The Capitals have won 13 of their last 16 games against the Blue Jackets and have won five of their last seven games against Columbus at Capital One Arena
-In their last 17 games against Eastern Conference opponents, Washington holds a 16-1-0 record and have outscored opponents 66-35; since Nov. 19 at the Montreal Canadiens, when that stretch first began, the Caps lead the league in wins and points (32) against Eastern Conference opponents
A Look Back In Time
After winning 16 consecutive games, the Blue Jackets rolled into Washington needing a win to tie the NHL record 17-game winning streak. Washington got goals from five different goal scorers: forward Daniel Winnik, Carlson, defenseman Nate Schmidt, forward Andre Burakovsky, and forward Justin Williams en route to a 5-0 victory. The win was a turning point of the Capitals’ season as they won the next five in a row and went 15-2-2 over their next 19 games to propel them to the top of the NHL standings.
By Harrison Brown