BLUE JACKETS (25-15-3) at CAPITALS (27-12-4)
Saturday, 7 p.m., Capital One Arena, Washington DC (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
If the Columbus Blue Jackets' power play had looked half-baked for about a month, it's fair to say the team left Thursday night's game vs. Nashville with a full loaf of Bread.
Artemi Panarin scored two power-play goals, and the latter goal served as the game winner in the team's crucial 4-3 win against Central Division-leading Nashville.
So what was the magic formula the Blue Jackets found in going a perfect 2-for-2 with the man advantage, and can they recapture it ahead of Saturday night's big Metropolitan Division clash with Washington?
"It wasn't like, 'Oh, they improved on this, they improved on that,'" head coach John Tortorella said.
"We scored two goals in 34 seconds on our power play. We shot the puck and it went in. Sometimes that's all you need, is to get a shot to the net and get a good screen.
"There wasn't really any science going on there."
Whether it was science, voodoo, or something in between -- say, a really good goal scorer using his skill to put the puck in the net -- the Blue Jackets will take it.
After an 0-for-25 run on the power play that included zero man-up goals since Dec. 13 -- there really aren't that many penalties in the NHL these days, are there? -- the Blue Jackets finally had something go right for the specialty team.
"I think it's one of those things where when things don't go well for you, you grip the stick a little tighter," Cam Atkinson said. "We're all skilled. You have your best players on the power play for a reason, and it's just letting yourself go and making the puck do all the work. I think we did a good job of that yesterday.
"I think the most important part was our retrievals yesterday, keeping the puck in and how important that is. We got two goals off retrievals."
As far as finding the secret sauce, Atkinson might be on to something there. Too often of late, a Blue Jackets power play has started in the offensive zone, but the team lost the faceoff, had to backtrack into its own end to get it, and spend at least a quarter of the two minutes trying to get set up again -- which brings its own set of difficulties into the equation.
On Panarin's third-period 5-on-4 goal, the Blue Jackets had to battle in the corner for the faceoff win but were able to do so. From there, the team worked the puck around the zone, including from below the goal line outward, before Panarin's wrister beat Pekka Rinne through traffic.
In overtime, with the teams skating 4-on-3, Jones played the puck out of traffic, Atkinson won a battle to get it back, then Jones found Panarin for the winning shot.
"It was something we worked at as far as 50-50s and battling," Tortorella said. "I think that's been a problem with our power play is we've been outworked at times in the battles."
The Blue Jackets were the ones winning pucks on Thursday night, and in fact it allowed Panarin to score the winner so quickly that the team didn't even get into the play that assistant coach Brad Larsen had drawn up during a timeout.
"It gave Lars a chance to work with them and set something up," Tortorella said. "Now, what he drew up didn't happen, we scored so quickly. Like he said, 'Just what I told them.'"
For the players, the successful power play brought together all of the assets that had been inconsistent in the past games.
"I think we just trusted the way we were playing," captain Nick Foligno said upon his return to the team, which included skating with the top power play. "It's impressive when we play like that and we have that work ethic within our power play, how dangerous we are. Tonight it was really working for us."
Nothing will ever be perfect, as the NHL's top power play this year still has plenty more misses than makes at 30 percent, but the hope is that the Blue Jackets will be able to carry some momentum through the upcoming games.
"You expect to score," Atkinson said. "You have a man advantage. At least get momentum. I feel like we haven't really done that. It's good to get the monkey off your back and score two huge goals."
Know the Foe
The defending Stanley Cup champions had a bit of a slow start -- perhaps a hangover after last year's raucous championship celebration -- but have since returned to the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
The team has won three in a row and is coming off a month of December in which it won nine of its last 11 games.
Any discussion of the Caps begins and ends with Alex Ovechkin, the Russian star who pushed the team to the top last year and is having an even better regular season this time around. Ovechkin has an NHL-best 32 goals and is on pace to reach 50 goals for the seventh time in his career and 60 for the second. He's added 17 assists for 49 points, and eight of his goals are on the power play along with a league-best 24 at even strength.
Nicklas Backstrom is next with a 34 assists among his 45 points, while John Carlson leads the team with 35 assists to go with six goals. Evgeny Kuznetsov has a 7-29-36 line and Jakub Vrana is a goal-scoring threat with 15 on the season.
The team's defense hasn't been as strong in past years with the Caps ceding 2.91 goals per game and the penalty kill operating at just 78.1 percent. In net, Braden Holtby has started 29 games and is 17-10-2 with a 2.86 GAA and .912 save percentage. In 14 starts (15 games), Pheonix Copley is 10-2-2/2.59/.916.
Blue Jackets projected lineup
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Oliver Bjorkstrand - Alexander Wennberg - Anthony Duclair
Lukas Sedlak - Kevin Stenlund - Riley Nash
Seth Jones - Zach Werenski
Dean Kukan - Markus Nutivaara
Scott Harrington - David Savard
Scratched: Ryan Murray (ill), Gabriel Carlsson