Jan. 17 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (22-17-8)
Columbus Blue Jackets (22-20-4)
It has been more than two years since the Capitals last paid a visit to Nationwide Arena in Columbus, but they’ll be more frequent guests in Ohio’s capital city going forward. Now that the Columbus Blue Jackets have been gerrymandered into the NHL’s Eastern Conference and are co-denizens of the Metropolitan Division with the Capitals, Washington will travel to Columbus two or three times every season.
The first of those two visits this season takes place on Friday night as the middle match of a three-game road trip against Metropolitan foes.
Washington’s last visit here was on Dec. 31, 2011. Dale Hunter was the Caps’ bench boss and Scott Arniel served as the Jackets’ head coach. Tomas Vokoun made the start in goal for the Caps, and Dennis Wideman scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal in a 4-2 Washington triumph, part of a three-point night for the ex-Caps defenseman, now a member of the Calgary Flames.
The Caps trailed that game two New Year’s Eves ago by a 2-0 score going into the third period, but they exploded for four goals in a span of just 6:40 in the third period to get out of town with a win, their third in succession.
This Friday visit to Columbus will mark the first of Washington’s two trips to town this month; they’ll return to face the Jackets here on Jan. 30. Columbus has already made its two trips to the District, and the Caps prevailed in both of those contests. Washington won 4-1 on Oct. 19 and 4-3 in overtime over Columbus on Nov. 12.
Washington’s current trip got off to a rough start on Wednesday night against the Penguins in Pittsburgh. The Caps owned a one-goal lead in each of the game’s three periods, but were unable to protect any of them. Rookie defenseman Olli Maatta scored with 1:54 left in the game to send the Caps to a difficult to swallow 4-3 loss.
“That one is a really frustrating one for us,” says caps winger Eric Fehr. “Obviously you’re on the road and you have a one-goal lead, you want to sit on it. But that’s just the way it’s been for us lately. We haven’t been able to hang onto them and we let them back in it.”
The Caps finished out a grueling stretch of five games in seven nights against the Pens, who had been sitting idle since Saturday. In what has become a familiar refrain, the Capitals played another strong game but were undone by mistakes at crucial junctures.
“It’s honestly sort of frustrating because I think we are playing very good hockey,” said Caps forward Brooks Laich. “Tonight, three leads and we get a goal with 12 minutes left in the third, and we are playing very good hockey in our fifth game in seven nights against a team that is rested and that is a top team in our conference. I thought we did a lot of really good things. We’ll crunch the tape tomorrow and find out what we could have done better. I don’t know what to take from it because it is frustrating tonight.”
Pittsburgh’s team is suffering through a spate of injuries, but the Penguins still have more than enough skill to take advantage of mistakes and hurt their opponents.
“We did a lot of good things in the game,” noted Caps coach Adam Oates afterwards. “And obviously you get tired of saying that, too, especially when we blow it. Tonight we played a good game and we figured out a way to get leads in the third against a fresher team and we didn’t sustain it. You have to be able to.”
Washington has now lost 25 of its 47 games this season (22-17-8). It has owned a lead at one point or another in 14 of those 25 losses. The Caps have won only four of 14 games (4-5-5) in the last month, and they’ve held a lead in eight of those 10 losses. In four of the 10 games, Washington was ahead by two goals before falling.
“You just keep going. There is only one way to go and it’s to push forward. And you still have to have some belief in the system and the structure and in the team and the coaching staff. The worst thing we can do is get upset and really disappointed and really frustrated where we peel away from each other. It’s a cliché, but we have to stick together and just push forward.”
Columbus comes into Friday’s game with a season-long four-game winning streak. The Jackets have won five of six since the turn of the calendar, they’ve won eight of their last 11 and are now just four points behind Washington in the tightly bunched Metropolitan Division standings.
The Jackets have outscored the opposition by a combined total of 15-8 during the life of their four-game winning streak.
Columbus netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, the league’s reigning Vezina Trophy winner, was sidelined with a groin injury for about a month and he recently returned to action. Bobrovsky, who is expected to start against the Caps on Friday, has won three straight starts since coming off injured reserve and five straight overall. He has stopped 102 of the 107 shots he has faced since returning, and has allowed just two even-strength goals in those three starts.
Right winger Nathan Horton was the Jackets’ main off-season acquisition; he inked a seven-year deal worth a total of $37.1 million to come to Columbus. Horton spent the first several months of the season recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, but he finally returned to the lineup and made his Blue Jackets debut on Jan. 2. In six games since returning to the lineup, Horton has collected two goals and four points. More importantly from a team standpoint, the Jackets are 5-1 in the six games in which Horton has played.
Columbus is still without star winger Marian Gaborik, who is out with a broken collarbone. Gaborik missed a month of action because of a sprained knee early in the season and he has been limited to just 18 games thus far this season.
Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin missed Thursday’s practice because of illness. The Jackets recalled defenseman Dalton Prout as a precautionary measure in case Tyutin can’t go against Washington on Friday. Prout had been reassigned to AHL Springfield earlier in the week.