Feb. 6 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: FAN 106.7, Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 30-17-5
Columbus Blue Jackets 27-21-4
Washington plays just three of its next 17 games against Metropolitan Division opponents, and all three of those games are against the Columbus Blue Jackets, starting with Tuesday’s game between the Caps and Jackets in Ohio’s capital city. Tuesday’s game is the front end of a delayed home-and-home set, as the two teams will have a rematch in Washington on Friday.
The Caps will close out their season’s series with the Jackets in Columbus on Feb. 26, a game that will be played mere hours after the NHL’s trade deadline, which is now just three short weeks away.
For the first time in almost three months and for just the fourth time this season, the Caps will come into Tuesday’s game saddled with consecutive regulation losses. Washington has not gone as many as three straight games without collecting a point this season.
After rolling up a 10-2-2 mark in December and a 6-2-2 record over a sporadically scheduled month of January, the Caps have dropped their first two February games. The Caps won at least the first two games of each month of the 2017-18 season until this month.
Washington was in position to claim at least a point in each of its weekend losses. The Caps lost a 7-4 decision to the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Friday night before falling 4-3 on Sunday afternoon to the Vegas Golden Knights at Capital One Arena. The Caps were even with the Pens at 4-4 with 18 minutes to play, and they owned three separate one-goal leads on Sunday against the Knights, but were unable to add to or to ultimately protect any of them.
The Caps have scored seven five-on-five goals in their last two games, but they’ve got nothing in the way of standings points to show for that offensive breakthrough. That’s largely because they’ve yielded 11 goals in the two games, including four in just five opposition power play opportunities.
“We’re just giving up too good of chances right now,” says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. “Ideally you wouldn’t give up any chances at all, because you’re attacking and you have the puck more. But at the very least, you’ve got to deflect a puck to the outside and keep things on the perimeter. Other teams are getting too many free looks – whether it’s in front of our net or beating us up ice from a breakout or the neutral zone or whatever. They’re getting too many good looks between the dots, so our [defenseman] have got to be better. We’ve got to be a lot better with our sticks and our positioning to force teams into tougher spots. We’ll keep working at it.”
In Sunday’s loss, the Caps took a 3-2 lead over Vegas in the first minute of the third period, but hardly threatened offensively thereafter. The Caps finished the game with just 23 shots on net, the seventh time in the last nine games they failed to crack 30 shots on goal.
Only six of those shots came in the third period and the first of the six gave the Caps the last of their three one-goal leads in the first minute of the final frame. Did the Caps feel like they got enough pucks toward Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in Sunday’s game?
“Probably not enough dangerous ones,” says Niskanen. “Sometimes, a team is going to deny you the middle, and there are not going to be a lot of free looks there. So that’s when we’ve got to shoot from the perimeter and have people without the puck driving there for those second opportunities.
“There are not going to be the pretty, drawn-up-on-the-whiteboard, three-on-two, pretty passing play every time. Sometimes you’ve just got to shoot to create from the perimeter, and be a little hungrier without the puck to get to those tough areas where you score goals. Like I said, we’ll keep working at it.”
Washington will get its second look at the Blue Jackets this season on Tuesday, and its first look in just over two months. The two Metro rivals met in the District back on Dec. 2 when the Caps edged the Jackets by a 4-3 count.
Seen by many as one of the heavyweight contenders for both Metro and Eastern Conference supremacy at the season’s outset, the Jackets have come in under expectations so far. Heading into Monday night’s slate of NHL activity, the Blue Jackets’ .558 points percentage ranks 18
th among the league’s Original 31 teams.
Columbus got out of the gates strong, and a four-game October winning spree left it with a 5-1-0 mark a couple of weeks into the campaign. A six-game winning streak in November left the Jackets with a 15-7-1 record the day after U.S. Thanksgiving. At that stage of the campaign, Columbus occupied the top spot in the Metro – a point ahead of New Jersey – and it owned the league’s fifth-best record.
Since then, however, the Blue Jackets have been unable to cobble together a winning run of more than two games in length. The Jackets’ mediocre 12-14-3 record in their last 29 games leaves Columbus only barely in possession of the first wild card spot in a tightly contested chase for positioning in the Metro Division and for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference.