The Blue Jackets are looking to put an end to a lengthy winless streak Tuesday night in Washington, and they will face a team that recently put a stop to one of its own. The Capitals have won two in a row after going winless in five straight, reeling off recent wins over the Chicago Blackhawks and an overtime win over the much-improved Carolina Hurricanes.
Currently sitting third in the Metropolitan Division, this year’s Capitals team scores in boatloads like always, their 45 goals the fourth-most in the East. But with new bench boss Barry Trotz calling the shots this year, the Capitals have shown some defensive improvement, with a +3 goal differential that fits right in the middle of the pack in the conference.
The Blue Jackets were 2-1-1 against Washington last season, dropping both visits to Verizon Center. The Capitals roster is at full strength except for Brooks Laich and Tom Wilson, who are question marks for Tuesday's game against Columbus.
Columbus won the final two meetings with the Capitals last season, the last one a 5-2 victory at Nationwide Arena on Jan. 30. The Blue Jackets scored the first four goals of the game by the midway point of the second period, opening the scoring with a shorthanded Derek MacKenzie goal and finishing the scoring with Cam Atkinson early in the third. Atkinson’s tally answered an Eric Fehr goal that had pulled Washington within two goals just a minute earlier.
Ryan Johansen earned First Star honors with two goals and Sergei Bobrovsky made 30 saves to earn the win. The victory ended a three-game losing streak for Columbus.
No surprises here. Alex Ovechkin is one of the greatest scorers in the world and is putting up strong numbers once again. Ovechkin has 14 points in 14 games to lead an evenly-spread scoring attack for the Capitals. He became the all-time leading scorer in Capitals’ franchise history with an assist against the Calgary Flames, surpassing Peter Bondra’s mark of 825. Ovechkin, still only 29 years old, reached the record in 270 fewer games than did Bondra. When Ovechkin struggles, generally the Caps do as well, and he was held pointless for a five game stretch in late October. He’s kicked it up a gear in the past five games, with eight points during that stretch.
Scott Hartnell was putting up points for the Blue Jackets through the season’s first month, but wasn’t having much luck finding the back of the net. That’s no longer the case for Hartnell, who has scored four goals in his last two games. Hartnell had been held off the sheet all together in the previous four contests, but has three goals and 11 points total in the teams past 10 games. Hartnell’s found himself at home in recent games at the front of the net. All four of his recent goals have been on stuff-ins or deflections from the hash-marks and in. That’s where Hartnell belongs if he’s going to be effective on the power play, where the Blue Jackets need production from players besides Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen.
Scott Hartnell vs. Brooks Orpik
Physical battles between Hartnell and Orpik were commonplace in the Flyers-Penguins battles of the last seven years. They both wear different sweaters now, but the intensity and animosity should be the same. The Capitals want to be a high-flying offensive team, and like they did last year, the Blue Jackets will need to slow them down with a physical game. Hartnell plays that game and will also need to provide the offense that he's chipped in of late. Orpik serves as one of Washington’s best shutdown defensemen, and since Todd Richards may try to keep Johansen and Foligno away from Orpik (which will be tough on the road), that will mean more match-ups against him for Hartnell and Boone Jenner. Those battles should be fun to watch.