November 20 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets at Verizon Center
Time: 12:30 p.m.
Radio: WFED 1500 and Capitals Radio 24/7
Columbus Blue Jackets 9-4-2
Washington Capitals 11-4-2
Washington hosts the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center. The game is the Capitals’ first matinee contest of the 2016-17 season and it’s the middle match of the team’s season-long five-game homestand. The Caps have taken each of the first two games of the homestand, trouncing the Penguins 7-1 on Wednesday and eking out a 1-0 win over Detroit on Friday.
Friday’s win over the Wings was a costly one for the Capitals. Washington lost the services of three of its forwards in the first period of the game, and it was forced to play with a short bench the rest of the way. Lars Eller, T.J. Oshie and Andre Burakovsky departed with upper body injuries at various junctures of the first period, and none was able to return.
Subsequent examination of the three players reveals Oshie’s to be the most serious; he is now listed as week-to-week. Eller is listed as day-to-day while Burakovsky participated fully in Saturday’s Caps practice and is expected to be able to suit up for Sunday’s game against Columbus.
The Caps recalled forward Paul Carey from AHL Hershey to help fill the gaping void left by Oshie’s absence. Oshie is tied for the team lead with eight goals and is tied for third on the team in scoring with a dozen points. He is a staple on Washington’s power play and penalty killing units.
Carey is a 28-year-old native of Boston who was originally a Colorado draft choice (fifth round, 135
th overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft). With Hershey this season, Carey has four goals and 13 points in 15 games. He has collected a point in 13 of 15 games this season, including each of the last 11 in a row.
Carey got into four games with Washington last season, scoring his first NHL goal – a game-tying, third-period tally – on Feb. 6 at New Jersey.
Eller and Oshie are key penalty killers for Washington, so the Caps’ penalty killing outfit was stressed in their absence. Caps goalie Braden Holtby was his team’s best penalty killer, making six of his 25 saves while Detroit had the extra man on Friday night, and making the Wings rue their inability to score on the power play.
“There is no question that we’ve got to score on one of those power play looks,” lamented Wings coach Jeff Blashill after the game. “It ended up being the difference in the game. I think if we score, then obviously big advantage to us at that point.”
The Red Wings had two power play chances in the first period, and two more in the second. Scoring on any one of those extra-man opportunities would have given the Wings a 1-0 lead.
“It would have been nice to see a puck go in,” said Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg. “I thought we had some good chances, but we need goals in those situations.”
For the sixth straight meeting between the Caps and the Wings, neither side was able to score more than three goals. The two teams have combined to score a grand total of just 16 goals in their last six meetings.
“I’m not sure,” answers, Holtby when asked why recent games in the Caps-Wings series have been so low-scoring. “It is kind of strange how it has happened the last couple of years like that. We like playing them; they’re a fun team to play against. I don’t know if it’s just the aura of the Detroit Red Wings that we get up for and get excited to play. Their goaltenders have played good against us in the past, and [Jimmy Howard] did again [Friday night] too, so it usually makes for a tight game.”
Two nights after unleashing a seven-goal assault on the Pittsburgh Penguins, the depleted Caps were able to win a 1-0 decision thanks to Jay Beagle’s clutch third-period goal, Holtby’s netminding and the team’s penalty killing performance.
“The biggest thing is it’s hard coming off those games and making sure you’re prepared to play the right way,” says Holtby, referring to the one-sided win over Pittsburgh. “I think that’s the main reason we won [Friday night] is that we stuck with the system. That was taking the game that was handed to us and playing through it, killing a lot of minutes below their goal line, trying to stamp them out in the neutral zone and stop their speed.
“We played the game that was needed and we didn’t think too much about last game, and that was a good thing.”
Sunday’s game will be the second meeting between the Capitals and the Blue Jackets this season, and the second meeting this week. The Caps took a 2-1 overtime loss from the Jackets in Columbus on Tuesday night in the final game of a three-game road trip that preceded the current homestand. Noted Caps killer Cam Atkinson supplied the game-winning goal for the Jackets in that Tuesday triumph over Washington in Ohio’s capital city.
Since that night, the Jackets have played only once, downing the New York Rangers by a 4-2 count in Columbus on Friday night.
The Jackets’ total of 15 games played to this point of the season is the fewest in the league, but they’ve already played four sets of back-to-back games and are starting on their fifth set here in Washington in Sunday. The Blue Jackets return home to host the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night.
Columbus has won a franchise record seven straight games on home ice, and they come to the District with a three-game winning streak overall, having swept a three-game homestand.
The Blue Jackets are 2-2-2 on the road this season, and both of their road victories have come via the shutout route. They blanked the Stars in Dallas in their road opener on Oct. 22 and did the same to the Ducks in Anaheim on Oct. 28. Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has three shutouts on the season; he was also in goal when the Blue Jackets blasted the Habs 10-0 on Nov. 4.
Friday’s win over the Rangers tightened things up considerably in the Metropolitan Division standings. While the Blueshirts still sit atop the Metro with 26 points, they’ve played one more game than Washington and Pittsburgh, who are tied for second with 24 points and own identical 11-4-2 records. New Jersey has 21 points, but has also played one fewer game than New York.
Although the Jackets sit in fifth place, they have three games in hand on New York, and those three games are conceivably the margin of difference between the two teams. Were the Jackets to win those games in hand, they’d be even with the Rangers.
The Metropolitan Division boasts three teams – Washington, Pittsburgh and Columbus – with only four regulation losses on the season. Only Montreal (three) has fewer regulation losses and Chicago is the only other team in the league with as few as four.