BLUE JACKETS (11-14-4) at CAPITALS (22-4-5)
Monday, 7 p.m. ET, Capital One Arena, Washington D.C. (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
As Nick Foligno met with the media after Saturday night's Blue Jackets loss at Florida, the team's fourth in a row, he might not have realized it but his comments came back to one phrase he repeated a number of times.
Find a way.
It's a three-word maxim that head coach John Tortorella has often leaned into. Things in the NHL are rarely perfect, but the good teams find a way to overcome whatever happens and get a win.
Of late, things have been going the opposite way for the Blue Jackets. If it's not a goal given up late in a period to stem momentum, it's a goal allowed in the first minutes of a game to put the team behind the eight-ball early. If it's not a spectacular save by an opposing goalie to keep the Jackets off the board, it's an open shot drilled into a post or crossbar before skittering harmlessly away.
While on the whole the Blue Jackets haven't played bad hockey, they have committed just enough mistakes and put too few pucks in the net to win games. The result is a frustrating run that keeps building on itself.
"That's one thing I know being in this league a long time, you can't keep saying next game or moral victories," Foligno said. "We need results, and there's a way of going about getting results. I think the most overused term that we've used all season is inconsistent, from players to team play.
"We need to find a way to help each other to be consistent, becoming that team that is finding ways to pull different guys and do it and getting everyone to do what we need to do. That's on me, and we're going to get back to work and find a way to do it come Monday."
It hasn't helped that the Jackets, which had the youngest average age of any team in the league on opening night, played six rookies on Saturday night. It hasn't helped that injuries have taken away two of the team's top defensemen, a pair of forwards, and limited others.
It's a no-excuse league, Tortorella would say, but those circumstances surely haven't helped as the Blue Jackets have tried to develop an identity with a growing nucleus of young players.
"That's what we have to understand, all of us, myself included," Foligno said. "I'm putting myself right in there. This is how it's going to be for our team this year. We have to find a way to grit (through) it, to be real sharp in those areas, and that's how we're going to get out of it. It's not going to be by some miraculous thing happening, by someone standing on their head, by someone taking the team on their back.
"Those are all rah-rah things you hear, but it's by everyone doing the little things, the hard things, the things that maybe don't get noticed but make such a difference on your team. When you do that, I think you become more of a team. We need that right now."
It would also help if the puck started going in the net. Since posting five goals in an emotional win over Pittsburgh on Black Friday, the team has five goals in the past four games.
"It's hard to play in this league now if you don't get run support," Tortorella said. "You just tighten yourself up, and yeah... we have to keep on trying to figure it out.
"It's a game of mistakes. But they're so magnified when you don't put the puck in the net. I think we're right there. I think we're playing good hockey, but we don't finish. It's the same result."
Know the Foe
If there's a time to play the best team in the league, this might not be in, but perhaps a good showing against Washington could be the momentum boost the Blue Jackets need.
It certainly won't be easy, though, as the Capitals have simply raced out of the gates to an NHL-best 49 points and a comfortable lead in the Metropolitan Division. Even with Nicklas Backstrom out with an injury of late - with 18 points in 23 games, he's due to return vs. Columbus tomorrow -- the Caps have won six in a row and have dropped just four games since the start of November.
Offense is leading the way with the Caps having scored 3.61 goals per game, third in the NHL. The ageless Alex Ovechkin again leads the way with 20 goals, good for second in the NHL, among his 31 points, but defenseman John Carlson has jumped out to a lofty lead in the Norris Trophy chase this season with an 11-32-43 line that places him fifth in the NHL in scoring and 15 points clear of the next closest defenseman.
After a tough offseason, Evgeny Kuznetsov is having a breakout season with more than a point per game, posting 12 goals and 17 assists for 29 points in 28 games. Jakub Vrana has made the next step as well, as the young Czech has 15 goals and 27 points this year, while veterans T.J. Oshie (11-11-22) and Tom Wilson (11-9-20) are still key pieces.
In net, Braden Holtby leads the NHL with 15 wins, part of a 15-2-4 campaign that includes a 2.78 goals-against average and .910 save percentage
3 Keys to the Game
Stay out of the box: As one would expect playing Washington, avoiding penalties will be key. The Caps' power play checks in at 24.5 percent, fifth in the NHL, and Ovechkin's office has been busy with eight PPG.
Back to basics: In tough times, it's easy to think about big things and forget the little ones. Columbus must focus on just being focused each minute and results will follow.
Ohio vs. the world: What better time to turn around a skid than against the best team in the NHL? This is a chance for a statement game for the Blue Jackets. What will that statement be?
Seth Jones is two games away from 300 in his Blue Jackets career and three away from 500 overall, while Sonny Milano is three games shy of 100 in his CBJ career. … Columbus was 3-1-0 last year vs. Washington, including winning both games in the District. … Korpisalo played twice against the Caps a year ago, posting a 1.16 GAA and .958 save percentage. ... The teams will meet three days in a 19-day span, playing next Monday in Columbus before a Dec. 27 game back in Washington. ... Columbus is unbeaten on Mondays this year (3-0-0). ... Cam Atkinson has 10 goals in 25 career games vs. Washington while Gustav Nyquist has a 4-7-11 line in 12 road games this year.
(Subject to change)
Sonny Milano - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Gustav Nyquist - Alexandre Texier - Cam Atkinson
Alexander Wennberg - Riley Nash - Eric Robinson
Dean Kukan - Seth Jones
Ryan Murray - David Savard
Vladislav Gavrikov - Andrew Peeke
Joonas Korpisalo (confirmed starter)
Scratches: Emil Bemstrom, Scott Harrington
Roster Report: Wennberg was a healthy scratch in Florida but returns to the lineup after Bemstrom left Saturday night's game with an upper-body injury. Korpisalo will get the start.