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Caps Battle Blue Jackets

Caps face Columbus for second time in as many Mondays, seeking sixth straight road win

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

Dec. 16 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena

Time: 7:00 p.m.

TV: NBCSW

Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN

 

Washington Capitals 24-5-5

Columbus Blue Jackets 12-14-6

The Caps conclude their 2019-20 Mentors' Trip on Monday night in Columbus when they go up against the Blue Jackets in the first of their two visits to Ohio's capital city this season. Monday night's game marks the middle match of three clashes between the Caps and Columbus this month; the two teams met a week ago in Washington and will get together again in the District on Dec. 27 in the first game for both teams after the NHL's holiday break.

Washington started the Mentors' Trip off with a 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night. The victory was the Caps' fifth straight on the road, and it extended their overall road record to 15-2-1 on the season, the best road mark through 18 games in NHL history. The 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres held the previous standard with a 15-3-0 record after their first 18 road contests.

The Caps are also a perfect 5-0 in Mentors' Trip games in Tampa, and they are 16-6-0 all-time with their dads and mentors along for the ride. Monday's game in Columbus marks the first time they've had the mentors with them in Ohio.

Ilya Samsonov was terrific in the Washington nets on Saturday, making 26 saves to become the fourth Caps goaltender ever to win eight of his first 10 NHL starts, joining Bob Mason, Jim Carey and Semyon Varlamov to hold that distinction.

All four Washington lines contributed to the cause at 5-on-5 in Saturday's victory.

"It means a lot," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom of the lineup-wide offensive contributions. "It's obviously key to be successful down the road. That's something we've been trying to do the whole year and trying to work on every day and every game. Tonight it worked out fine, and everyone was going."

Although the Lightning's lethal power play unit scored Tampa Bay's first goal of the game early in the second, the Caps killed off four other power plays in Saturday's win, including three in the second period. The Capitals come to Columbus with the NHL's fifth ranked penalty killing outfit at 85.1 percent. In their last two games, they've killed nine of 10 against the second-ranked Lightning and third-ranked Boston power play units.

"To me, the detail and the preparation that has gone into the penalty kill has been at a different level this year," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "It's something that we worked on this summer as a coaching staff, in delivering a different, more detailed message, and I think it has made a huge difference for us. Our players feel like they're prepared when they're going over the boards.

"In addition to a plan, you've got to have players that like doing it and are committed to doing it. So we went out and got a couple of guys that like to kill penalties and like to have that role and cherish it and go after it, and they're good at it. You see the difference that a guy like [Carl] Hagelin makes with our team and the penalty kill. Our numbers have been right at the top, and we'd probably be at the top of the league if he had been healthy all year."

In the 23 games in which Hagelin has been in the lineup, the Caps are 74-for-84 (88.1 percent) on the kill. In the 11 games he missed with an upper body injury, they were 29-for-37 (78.4 percent).

"So we'll continue to utilize him and all the assets that he brings," says Reirden, "but also [guys] like [Radko] Gudas, and having [Jonas] Siegenthaler involved, and not having to tax John Carlson for all those penalty kill minutes. And of course, your goaltending has to be great, but [Nic] Dowd and [Garnet] Hathaway and I could go down the list.

"I think management did a good job of giving us the right personnel, and now we've got a good plan from the coaching staff, and now it's been implemented and we're taking advantage of that preparation to have success."

The Jackets come into Monday's game on the heels of a 4-3 overtime loss to the Senators in Ottawa on Saturday afternoon. Former Blue Jackets forward Anthony Duclair bit the hand that once fed him in that one, victimizing his old team for a hat trick, and netting the game-winner in overtime. The loss may have been a costly one for Columbus; it lost a trio of players to upper body injuries during the contest.

Forwards Sonny Milano and Josh Anderson and blueliner Ryan Murray departed and did not return to the game in Ottawa. Milano left the game three shifts into the first after taking a hit from Sens defenseman Mark Borowiecki. Anderson fought Borowiecki in the wake of the hit on Milano, and he played three more shifts in the first after serving his five-minute penance, but he didn't play afterwards. Murray exited the scene for the night just after the midpoint of the second period.

As of Sunday afternoon, there is no further word on the condition of the three ailing Columbus players, and nothing on potential AHL recalls, either.

The Caps and Columbus meet a week ago in Washington, and the Caps were extremely displeased with their performance that night in a 5-2 loss. Only a great game from Braden Holtby kept them close; he stopped 19 of the single-period season high 20 shots he saw in the first. That Dec. 9 loss to the Blue Jackets is Washington's lone regulation loss in its last 10 games (8-1-1).

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