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Caps are Waiting For Columbus

Washington faces a divisional foe on Saturday - and the top one at that - as the Columbus Blue Jackets make the first of two visits to the District

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Dec. 2 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets at Capital One Arena 

Time: 7:00 p.m.

TV: NBC Sports Washington

Radio: 106.7 The Fan, Capitals Radio 24/7

Columbus Blue Jackets 17-8-1

Washington Capitals 14-11-1

Washington's season-long five-game homestand continues on Saturday night with a divisional duel against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are currently sitting atop the Metropolitan Division standings. Saturday's game is the first of four meetings between the two Metro Division rivals in 2017-18, and it's just the sixth divisional game in 26 contests thus far this season for the Capitals. 

The Caps opened the homestand with 5-2 loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night, an entertaining affair in which the Caps weren't able to add to a couple of early one-goal leads, and they weren't able to generate a tying tally when they were down by only a goal for the first 29 of the game's final 30 minutes. 

On Friday, the Caps practiced at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in preparation for their Saturday night date with the Jackets. Columbus was in action on Friday night, hosting Anaheim. As Friday's practice neared its conclusion, the Caps learned they had lost winger Nathan Walker, who was claimed off waivers by the Edmonton Oilers.
Video: Barry Trotz | December 1
"A little bit, but not really," responds Caps coach Barry Trotz when asked whether he was surprised Walker was claimed. "Teams are going to get an opportunity to look at him. That's what waivers are there for. Walks is right now not in our top 14 [forwards]. So he needs to play; he's not getting any better [sitting]. 

"I think it's the right thing to do, is to get him down. Hopefully, he gets a consistent opportunity in Edmonton and if he does and he makes, that's fantastic. And if he doesn't, then we have an opportunity to reclaim him." 

Walker played in only seven of the Caps' first 25 games before being waived on Thursday. A third-round pick (89th overall) in the 2014 draft, Walker made his NHL debut on Oct. 7 against Montreal, becoming the first Australian player to play in the league. He scored his first NHL goal that night, too, his lone point to date. The Caps were hoping we would clear waivers and could be sent to AHL Hershey. 

Instead, the 23-year-old starts fresh in Edmonton.

"It's all about opportunity," says Trotz. "Anybody who knows Walks [knows] he's a terrific young man, but he needs to play; he needs to develop. His game is not there yet, so he has to continue to develop and you can't do it not playing." 

With Walker's departure, the Caps' active roster takes on a more familiar shape of 13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goaltenders. 

One of the Caps' strengths in that loss to the Kings was their forecheck and a bit more sustained offensive zone play than we've seen of late. Washington would do well to muster some more of that type of play against the Jackets, who generally make it tough to get through the neutral zone with speed. 

"Ever since I came into the league, in the last three or four years," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson of the Blue Jackets, "they've been a very tough team to play against, they've had a tough building to go into, and they've come in and played good road games. 

"First off, they work extremely hard. It's demanded from their coach and their whole system there. Their identity is that every guy is working really hard. I think in order to make them feel a bit flustered, you've got to answer that work ethic, you've got to make sure that your feet are moving, and I think if you're getting in on the forecheck and playing fast and hitting their [defensemen], that makes them pretty human. They won't be as quick to make plays, and they won't be as quick to stand up on you in the neutral zone if they're expecting to go back and to have to retrieve pucks. 

"When a team is at its best and playing at its best, it's when their feeling good and they feel like they have time and feel like they have structure. If we play fast and we play physical like we did [on Thursday] night, it will make them a little more overwhelmed and then stuff will break down from there." 
Video: Rinkside Update | Alex Chiasson | December 1
The loss to Los Angeles left the Caps at 9-5-0 for November, as they fell a victory short of matching the club record of 10 wins for that month. Now they'll start the December portion of their slate against the current class of the Metro in Columbus, and they'll play their first game against a divisional foe in 10 games and in more than three weeks. 

After playing exclusively against the Western Conference and the Atlantic Division for the better part of a month, are the Caps eager to take on the challenge of a Metro foe?

"Yeah, I think so," says Trotz. "When you're in the division, you know how important those four-point games are. So it will be good. We played well enough to get points [Thursday] night [against the Kings]. We could have won the game. They capitalized on chances that we gave them, and that was the difference in the hockey game. 

"We had enough to win, but still we weren't as sharp as we needed to be against a very good team like L.A."

Washington's last four-point game was a 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the District on Nov. 10. The Capitals are 3-2-0 against Metropolitan foes this season, with the wins coming over New Jersey, the New York Islanders and the Penguins. The Pens also defeated the Caps, as did Philadelphia. 
Video: Capitals Report | December 1
Saturday night obviously marks the first meeting between the Caps and the Jackets this season, but they've had some high-scoring slugfests and some tight, goaltending duels since they first became division rivals in 2013-14. 

Columbus is coming in hot on Saturday night, having won eight of its last nine games and having taken a 4-2 decision from the Anaheim Ducks in Ohio's capital city on Friday night. The Jackets used backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (25 saves) against Anaheim on Friday, and they've saved Sergei Bobrovsky for the Capitals on Saturday. 

Bobrovsky has been excellent from season's outset; he posted a 1.97 GAA and a .934 save pct. in October and then registered a 1.88 GAA and a .936 save pct. last month. He has surrendered two or fewer tallies in 14 of his 20 starts this season, including the last eight consecutively. 

While the Jackets feature the league's third stingiest defense and its fifth best penalty-killing outfit, Columbus is in the lower third of the league (21st at 2.76 goals per game) offensively and its power play unit ranks dead last in the league at 8.8%.

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