The Blue Jackets (2-8-0) travel to the nation’s capital for a Friday night match-up against the Washington Capitals (6-2-0) with a bit of confidence after winning back-to-back games in Colorado and New Jersey.
In contrast, the Capitals’ recent five-game winning streak was halted by Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov put Washington on the board first, but the advantage lasted for less than 30 seconds and, despite a few good chances, the Capitals' lost their lead thanks to three unanswered Penguins goals.
Head coach Barry Trotz is now in his second season with the Capitals, who locked down a few vital players during the offseason. The team re-signed forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jay Beagle, Stanislav Galiev, Chris Brown and Marcus Johansson, defenseman Nate Schmidt and goalie Braden Holtby.
Additionally, the team acquired T.J. Oshie from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for forward Troy Brouwer and netminder Pheonix Copley. Defenseman Taylor Chorney and forward Justin Williams, the latter a three-time Stanley Cup champion, were signed as free agents by GM Brian MacLellan over the summer.
With the addition of players like Oshie and Williams, this group led by captain Alex Ovechkin is primed to make a push deep into the playoffs.
A quick note on the Blue Jackets: All-Star center Ryan Johansen is expected to be back in the lineup, while coach John Tortorella said Brandon Saad did not make the trip to Washington and is not playing in Washington due to illness.
It was on Mar. 3 that these two Metropolitan Division teams last faced off.
The Capitals notched two first period goals at Nationwide Arena that put the Blue Jackets into a hole early on in the game. The home team chipped away, but was ultimately unable to catch up in a 5-3 Washington win.
Ovechkin scored his first of two goals 3:37 in, Eric Fehr added another late in the period and the Blue Jackets, playing behind right from the start, couldn't claw their way back to level.
Scott Hartnell scored two goals of his own to get the Jackets within one on two separate occasions, the second one a power play tally with 10:53 left — at a time when it almost felt certain that the Jackets would tie the game.
It was an all-out push by Columbus in the final two periods, putting 24 shots at the Capitals net and shooting from all angles.
The Jackets are 4-2-1 in the last seven meetings and 8-9-6 in the all-time series against the Capitals. These two teams will meet three additional times this season.
In the Blue Jackets' last outing, Cam Atkinson scored the game-winning goal against the Devils in New Jersey, his second goal of the 2015-16 season.
The right winger has also added four assists for a total of six points, leaving him tied with four other Blue Jackets players for the team scoring lead. The others being Hartnell (3G, 3A), Brandon Dubinsky (3G, 3A), Ryan Johansen (1G, 5A) and Boone Jenner (6G).
The 26-year-old is in the midst of his fifth NHL season -- all with Columbus. He has recorded 61 goals and 118 points in 228 career NHL games.
He has been a consistent player for the Blue Jackets so far this season, adding one point per game in the last three match-ups. Keep an eye on Atkinson, who was skating with Brandon Dubinsky on the left wing and Johansen at center during Thursday's practice at Nationwide Arena.