BLUE JACKETS (2-4-0) at CAPITALS (2-5-0)
SATURDAY, 7 PM | VERIZON CENTER
The Blue Jackets arrived in the nation's capital very early Friday morning after a frustrating 5-3 loss in Montreal, and took an optional skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in suburban Arlington, Va. later that day. Good news for the Blue Jackets: flu-stricken Marian Gaborik, who missed the game against Montreal, was back on the ice for practice and is expected to return to the lineup on Saturday night against the Capitals.
And while nothing is set in stone, the Blue Jackets could turn to backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney to make his first start of the season on Saturday. Todd Richards said earlier this week that he wants McElhinney to play one of the Jackets' back-to-back games (Saturday or Sunday), and with Sergei Bobrovsky taking 100 percent of the workload to this point, there's a chance McElhinney could spell him in Washington.
For now, the hope is that the Blue Jackets will have Gaborik back in the fold but there has been no update since Tuesday on Nick Foligno, who returned to Columbus for personal reasons.
Both the Capitals and Blue Jackets have struggled out of the gate, with Columbus winning two of its first six games and Washington winning just two of its first seven contests. Capitals coach Adam Oates has maintained that his group will be rewarded for the good things it's doing on the ice, including spending a lot of time in the opposition end of the ice and creating chances at both even strength and on the power play.
The Capitals' power play has been their bread and butter and it was red-hot on opening night in Chicago, but Washington has struggled to consistently find the back of the net ever since that four-goal outburst at United Center.
The New York Rangers, another Metropolitan Division team that has struggled mightily in the early part of 2013-14, came into Verizon Center earlier this week and laid a 2-0 shutout on the Capitals. Henrik Lundqvist was terrific in goal, but the Capitals weren't able to sustain much pressure in the Rangers' zone. Always an opportunistic bunch, the Rangers capitalized on a pair of defensive miscues by Washington and left D.C. with a 2-0 win.
Despite playing solid hockey over their last three games, the Blue Jackets have a 0-3-0 record to show for it. They've out-chanced opponents, rallied from late deficits and gone toe-to-toe with elite teams in the league but it's hard to feel good about effort when it's not producing points. After they face the Capitals on Saturday, the Blue Jackets return home to play eight of their next nine games at Nationwide Arena.
It makes Saturday's game that much more important for Columbus, to return home on a positive note and prepare to make up the ground they lost on the road. The first Metropolitan Division clash between the Blue Jackets and Capitals should be a good one.
VS. VANCOUVER CANUCKS
SUNDAY, 6 P.M.