The Washington Capitals currently sit atop the Metropolitan Division as well as the NHL standings, making a loud statement that they're not only playoff contenders, but contenders for the ultimate prize.
The Capitals kicked off a five-game road trip at PNC Arena against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday and saw their nine-game winning streak come to an end in a 4-2 loss. Heading into that match-up, the Capitals had won 11 of 13 outside of the nine-game streak.
Washington now moves on to Columbus to face a Blue Jackets team with some newfound confidence after knocking off the league's former No. 1 team, the Dallas Stars, at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday. Saturday's game will mark the first of the new year for both teams.
About that calendar-year closing win for the Blue Jackets on Tuesday...
Columbus put in 60 minutes of quality work against the high-flying Stars, getting six even strength goals from six different players. Curtis McElhinney turned in a solid performance in between the pipes for Columbus, making 40 saves.
A few notes on the Blue Jackets: No. 1 goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was activated off injured reserve, forward Matt Calvert was placed on injured reserve and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo was assigned to Cleveland’s Lake Erie Monsters (AHL), it was announced on Wednesday.
Bobrovsky has missed the past 10 games after suffering a groin strain on Dec. 8 against Los Angeles, and could make his first appearance back in net against the Capitals. UPDATE: Head Coach John Tortorella addressed Bobrovsky's status as "day-to-day" in his pre-game press conference. Curtis McElhinney will start in net tonight as Bobrovsky re-aggravated his groin strain.
The Blue Jackets visited the Capitals at Verizon Center on Oct. 30 and, despite a late goal from Calvert, were unable to rally in what was a tough 2-1 loss.
After a scoreless first period, some sloppiness with the puck in the second period allowed Justin Williams to open the scoring, giving the Capitals a 1-0 lead at 14:16 of that frame. T.J. Oshie added on in the third period, giving the home team a 2-0 lead.
Calvert’s goal, his first of the season, brought Columbus within a goal at 2-1 late in the third, but the Blue Jackets couldn’t get a second one past goaltender Braden Holtby and draw level.
In between the pipes for Columbus, Bobrovsky assembled a strong 26-save performance.
The Blue Jackets are 8-10-6 in the all-time series against the Capitals and 4-3-1 in the last eight meetings.
With 33 points, Alex Ovechkin is leading the Washington Capitals in that category.
The 30-year-old has scored 20 goals, added 13 assists and 22 penalty minutes so far this season and is still electrifying to watch whenever he has the puck on his stick. He's been one of the Capitals' most dangerous players this season, and has done a lot of damage on the power play.
Ovechkin was Washington's first pick in 2004 and in the 11 years since, has become a franchise icon and is still only 30 years old. During the Capitals game against Dallas on Nov. 19, the left winger scored his 484th career goal, passing Sergei Fedorov for most goals by a Russian-born player in NHL history.