The Blue Jackets have won four straight games in December and head out on the road to extend the streak, taking on the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center.
The Capitals sit third in the Metropolitan Division and have been playing some pretty good hockey themselves, winners of three straight during their last road trip to Carolina, New Jersey, and Tampa Bay. The Capitals put up five goals against the Lightning on Tuesday night, with Alex Ovechkin scoring twice and Braden Holtby making 33 saves in the win.
Ovechkin’s pair of goals ended a four-game goal scoring drought, but kept him on pace to once again find himself in the 50-goal neighborhood come April. Ovechkin’s 14 goals are tied for sixth in the league, and it’s pretty clear that the structure brought by new coach Barry Trotz hasn’t done much to slow him down. Nor has it harmed Nicklas Backstrom, who is maintaining a point-per-game pace and ranks fifth in the NHL in assists.
Still, Washington's defensive improvement has been evident. The Capitals are giving up 28 shots per game on average, eighth-best in the NHL and far better than last season when they ranked 27th under then-coach Adam Oates. Brooks Orpik, added from the Penguins in the offseason, has done his job as a defending defenseman thus far; he’s a plus-2 and ranks third in the NHL in blocked shots.
The most dangerous element of the Capitals’ attack, as per usual, is the power play. The Capitals are second in the league with a 28.8 percent success rate and have at least one power play goal in six of their last eight games. The penalty kill has struggled, ranking 26th overall.
Washington is a .500 team at home this season, going 5-5-3 and has lost three of its last four at Verizon Center.
This is the Jackets’ second visit to D.C. this season, the first a 4-2 loss that was the final defeat of a nine-game losing streak. The Capitals jumped on Columbus right out of the gate, with Marcus Johansson and Ovechkin scoring in the first eight minutes, and then Ovechkin adding his second goal of the period towards the end of the first.
The Blue Jackets did make a push in the third period. After David Savard scored in the final minute of the second period, Hartnell had the Jackets’ best chance in the third when his breakaway chance hit the crossbar. That was as close as Columbus would get, as another Johansson goal put the game out of reach. Braden Holtby made 24 saves to earn the win.
John Carlson has become a top-pair defenseman in Washington, which was the hope for the former first-round pick, and his trajectory continues to point up. Carlson already has 20 points this season (tied for sixth amongst defensemen) with four goals, on pace to break previous career highs of 10 goals and 37 points. Carlson is a workhorse, the team’s leader in average ice time (23:11 per game) and shorthanded ice time (2:48 per game). With Mike Green struggling with injuries this year (has missed seven straight with an upper-body injury), Carlson is more important than ever in all facets of the game.
Boone Jenner is on an absolute tear around the net, scoring goals in four straight games. Jenner opened the scoring for the Jackets with a power play marker against the Flyers on Tuesday night, and has been creating more opportunities around the goal than the score sheet indicates. “Boone is a worker and he doesn’t shy away from the hard areas,” said Todd Richards after Tueday’s win. “If you want to score, you have to go to the hard areas, and that’s the way he plays. He’s a guy who’s going to score a lot of goals in this league because of how he works, his attitude, and his commitment.” Jenner’s being rewarded no matter who he plays with, and he’s living in the areas of the ice where loose pucks lead to goals.
Another special teams battle
The Capitals’ power play is explosive and that’s no secret to any team in the NHL. Washingotn has the No. 2 power play, but only Backstrom ranks in the top 30 of power play scoring. The Capitals get their offense from a variety of sources; nine Capitals have at least one power play goal, with Ovechkin’s six leading the team. The penalty kill has been an Achilles heel for Washington, and it's been a similar story for the Blue Jackets. Columbus' No. 5 power play unit has been a difference-maker while its 25th-best penalty kill has endured moments of struggle. Needless to say, the team with the most discipline has the upper hand.