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PREVIEW: Blue Jackets return home to battle Capitals

Columbus' three-game point streak began a week ago in Washington

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com
BLUE JACKETS (12-14-6) vs. CAPITALS (24-5-5)

Monday, 7 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports OhioCBJ appFOX Sports app97.1 The Fan)   

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A few weeks ago, head coach John Tortorella said his Blue Jackets needed to find their identity as a team. 

Now that the team is 32 games into the campaign -- and has 50 more contests to go -- Tortorella says the Blue Jackets are there. 

"We know how we have to play," he said ahead of Saturday's game at Ottawa. "The hard part -- and it's not just this team, it's a number of teams throughout a long year -- is doing it consistently. We have gone over it, and for a lot quite honestly of the year we have played to it. We're a little inconsistent right now." 

What had Tortorella angry was a lack of energy in the previous game, an overtime loss to Pittsburgh in which the Blue Jackets were unable to create much offensively and generally looked to be skating in quicksand.  

It was the kind of performance, coming one game after perhaps the team's best game of the year in a win at Washington, that asked more questions than it answered. It was also a showing that caused the team to look in the mirror. 

"I think that's the thing -- as a group here, we have to get together and start expecting more out of ourselves in the focus and understanding of how we need to play," captain Nick Foligno said. "If we do that, we'll be just fine." 

The Blue Jackets then survived one of their most adversity-filled games of the year Saturday and earned a point in a 4-3 loss at the Senators that extended the CBJ's point streak to three. Columbus was down 3-1 and lost three players to injury in the first two periods, but rallied with a dominant third period to tie the game.  

While Columbus now sits in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division going into Monday night's return clash against the league-leading Capitals, there are plenty of ways to judge how the season has gone. Advanced metrics show the team has been one of the best in the league defensively at 5-on-5, while the team's shooting percentage of 7.4 percent in all situations is tied with Los Angeles for last in the league. Meanwhile, Tortorella has maintained the team has created scoring chances, with the caveat that the results will improve if pucks start going in the net as they should. 

But there's also the unfortunate reality that while the Blue Jackets have felt they played well enough to win a number of times and haven't gotten the results, they also have made enough mistakes to lose as well. For example, in the Ottawa game, an early goal, a turnover at the blue line and an overtime penalty all led directly to Sens goals.  

"It's been frustrating we don't get the results at certain times," Tortorella said. "The things that we have to be more consistent at are the big breakdowns. We've had goals scored on us in the last minute. We've had big plays made, big plays not made to get that final result. That's the frustrating part.  

"We're under .500, and I'm not sitting here protecting the team. I think we've played better than the record that we have here, but we have not found enough consistently to get the wins." 

Know the Foe   

The Blue Jackets' win over the Caps in DC last Monday has done little to detail Washington's train to the top. Since then, the Caps have posted wins over Boston, last year's Eastern Conference champion, and Tampa Bay, which tied the NHL wins record a year ago, to move to a league-best 53 points. In fact, the Caps' lone loss in the past nine games was a week ago to Columbus.  

Offense is leading the way with the Caps having scored 3.59 goals per game, second in the NHL. The ageless Alex Ovechkin again leads the way with 21 goals, good for third in the NHL, among his 33 points, but defenseman John Carlson has jumped out to a lofty lead in the Norris Trophy chase this season with an 12-33-45 line that places him seventh in the NHL in scoring and 14 points clear of the next closest defenseman.  

Evgeny Kuznetsov is having a breakout season with more than a point per game, posting 12 goals and 20 assists for 32 points in 31 games. Jakub Vrana has made the next step as well, as the young Czech has 15 goals and 29 points this year, while veterans T.J. Oshie (14-12-26) and Tom Wilson (12-10-22) are still key pieces. Newly back from injury, Nicklas Backstrom has five points in his three games since returning and a 6-17-23 line in 26 games.  

In net, Braden Holtby is tied for the NHL lead with 16 wins, part of a 16-3-4 campaign that includes a 2.80 goals-against average and .911 save percentage 

3 Keys to the Game   

Stay out of the box: As one would expect playing Washington, avoiding penalties will be key. The Caps' power play checks in at 23.5 percent, fifth in the NHL, and Ovechkin's office has been busy with eight PPG.  

Counter Wilson: Tortorella pointed out that Wilson is a key to the Washington lineup given his size and energy. With Josh Anderson out, the Blue Jackets will have to find a new way to counter his impact, as Anderson often plays well against the Caps forward.  

Korpi-solid: CBJ goalie Joonas Korpisalo has played three career games against the Caps, posting a 2-0-0 record with a 1.47 goals-against average and .954 save percentage. You have to get a stellar outing from your goalie to beat this team.  

Of Note

Columbus has won five of the last six over Washington. … Korpisalo has a .919 save percentage in his last 15 appearances. … Cam Atkinson has four goals in his last six games overall and 12 in 26 career games vs. Washington. … Atkinson scored twice last week vs. Washington along with Ryan Murray, Riley Nash and Oliver Bjorkstrand. … Columbus is 4-0-0 on Mondays this year. 

Projected Lineup

(Subject to change)  

Alexandre Texier - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Eric Robinson 

Gustav Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Oliver Bjorkstrand 

Nick Foligno - Alexander Wennberg - Cam Atkinson 

Marko Dano - Riley Nash - Kevin Stenlund

Dean Kukan - Seth Jones  

Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard   

Scott Harrington - Andrew Peeke  

Joonas Korpisalo  

Elvis Merzlikins  

Scratches: Sonny Milano (injury), Josh Anderson (injury), Ryan Murray (injury) 

Roster Report: Milano, Anderson and Murray all left Saturday's game at Ottawa with upper-body injuries and will not play, though Tortorella did not have an update about their long-term statuses. Columbus recalled Dano and Stenlund on Sunday, while Harrington will rejoin the lineup as well.  

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