December has been all about winning for the Blue Jackets, and they’ll look to push that streak to eight games when they host the Washington Capitals on Thursday to start a season-long five-game home stand.
The Blue Jackets defeated the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night for their fourth consecutive victory beyond regulation. The Capitals played a little extra hockey themselves, coming up on the short end of the longest shootout in NHL history. It took 20 rounds to find a winner between the Capitals and Panthers, even requiring two players from each team to shoot for a second time in the rotation. In the 20 rounds, Washington goaltender Braden Holtby had five opportunities to win the game with a save but was unable to do so.
Despite the loss in Sunrise, the Capitals did earn a point and have done so in four straight road games (3-0-1). Overall, they have points in six straight (4-0-2), their other overtime loss coming at the hands of the Blue Jackets in Washington last Thursday.
During that stretch the Capitals’ big names have been producing. Nicklas Backstrom recorded a hat trick to help defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, while Alex Ovechkin has two goals and five points in five games.
The Blue Jackets looking for an eighth straight win is significant, but it's not new; Columbus reeled off an eight-game win streak last season, spanning from Jan. 6-23.
The Blue Jackets defeated the Capitals at Verizon Center on Dec. 11, the fifth win of their current streak, with a 3-2 overtime victory. Columbus didn’t make it easy, taking three penalties in the first five minutes of the game that led to a 5-on-3 goal by Eric Fehr. Throughout the game, the Jackets gave the one of the league's best power plays a 5-on-3, a four-minute power play, and another man-advantage with under six minutes remaining in a tie game. But stellar penalty killing by the Jackets got them through, not to mention 39 saves from Sergei Bobrovsky, who was outstanding.
While the defense maintained for Columbus, Nick Foligno took care of matters at the other end. Foligno scored two goals, including the overtime winner on the power play. Foligno has four goals during the current winning streak. Also coming up big for the second straight game was Kevin Connauton, whose point drive midway through the third period tied the game two nights after his first Blue Jackets goal beat the Flyers in overtime.
Troy Brouwer has always been a solid secondary scoring threat wherever he’s played, and he’s been doing the job of late for the Capitals. Brouwer has only reached the 20-goal mark twice in his six full seasons (one of which was last year), but he has a scorer’s shot and gets lost in the shuffle playing on a team with Backstrom and Ovechkin. Brouwer is an effective power play threat who scores a lot of goals from the slot area. Brouwer has been known as a streaky player throughout his career, and he had only one goal in 12 games before the Capitals' win over the Lightning on Dec. 9. Now he has three goals in his last four, one of those goals coming against the Jackets last week. He’s had the hot stick of late and is a player the Jackets can’t forget about.
Is any goaltender hotter than Sergei Bobrovsky? He has started every game during this seven-game winning streak, going 7-0-0 with a .950 save percentage and a 1.71 goals-against average during that stretch, as well as a shutout in his last outing. Bobrovsky is holding down the fort, especially in his 52-save effort against the Panthers, but he’s also making the big save at the point in the game where the Jackets need it most. In the shootout, which some in hockey feel is essentially a coin flip, Bobrovsky has had a huge impact. He’s stopped 14 of the 17 attempts he’s faced in shootouts this year, a big reason the Blue Jackets are 3-1 in the skills competition. Bobrovsky is certainly back to his Vezina form.
Tough assignments for top defense pairs
Both of these teams have top offensive threats, with Ovechkin and Backstrom pitted up against Ryan Johansen and Foligno. But both squads also have top-flight defensemen that are playing some of their best hockey of the season. John Carlson and Jack Johnson have each been eating up a boatload of minutes for their respective team, while Johnson is easily playing his best hockey of the season during the club’s recent stretch. David Savard has also had a very solid season alongside Johnson and has added some offense to his game. Johnson and Savard were plenty successful in keeping Ovechkin quiet in D.C. last week, while Foligno was a big offensive factor for the Jackets. The Capitals will expect Carlson and Brooks Orpik to lock down on the Johansen line, while Johnson and Savard will try to maintain their offensive spike during this winning streak.