Dec. 27 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Columbus Blue Jackets 17-14-6
Washington Capitals 26-7-5
With the NHL's three-day holiday respite now in the rear view, the Caps get back to work with a busy weekend set of back-to-backs against Metropolitan Division opponents. First up are the Columbus Blue Jackets, in town for the second time this month on Friday night. Soon after Friday's tilt, the Caps are off to Carolina to face the Hurricanes for the first time since the season's opening weekend.
Friday's meeting is the third between the Caps and Jackets this month, the third in a span of just eight games for Washington. The Capitals are still seeking their first victory over the Blue Jackets this season; Columbus handed them a 5-2 defeat here on Dec. 9 and a 3-0 whitewashing in Ohio on Dec. 16.
The Caps went into the holiday break with three games in four nights. After sweeping a set of back-to-backs at New Jersey and against Tampa Bay, respectively, the Caps took a 7-3 drubbing at the hands of the Bruins in Boston on Monday night in their last game ahead of the holiday break. In that loss, they yielded a quartet of first-period goals and were dented for multiple power-play goals in the same game for just the second time this season.
Boston scored a pair of power-play goals in the first period as the Caps went shorthanded four times in a span of about 16 minutes, including a full, two-minute 5-on-3.
"There's a couple penalties that there's no reason for," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "there's a couple that are questionable in terms of whether they're good calls or not, and then there's a couple that you have to take because you turn the puck over and it's to stop a backdoor tap in. So it was a combination of things, and that's an area that we've got to get better and you often see those type of mistakes when you're fatigued. It's clearly an area we've got to get better at, and will. We're always talking about growing our game and improving, and that's something that's been addressed and will need to continue to improve if we want to stay at the top of the league where we are."
Washington faced 13 shorthanded missions in its last two games before the break, and it now ranks second in the NHL with an average of 3.66 times shorthanded per game. The Caps' power play unit is getting just 3.03 chances to take the ice per game, 19th in the league. Since Nov. 1, the Caps have had to kill more than three penalties in exactly half - 12 of 24 - of their games. Over the same time span, they've had four games in which they've had as many as four power play opportunities.
The Caps' minus-24 disparity between power play opportunities and penalty kill missions is the worst in the league. Washington's penchant for taking penalties - and taking them in bunches - has the residual effect of cooling one of the league's most potent scoring attacks. The Caps are second in the league with 3.53 goals per game, and they're tied for fourth in the league with 85 goals at 5-on-5.
"Some guys are sitting there for a while and then they lose a little bit of their energy," says Reirden. "They're warmed up and now they get to go and play against guys that have been on the ice for two of the last five minutes and they sat there for five minutes. It's not an easy thing for anybody. It's a team thing and it needs to improve."
Washington has yet to go consecutive games without earning at least a point this season, a streak the Caps will be seeking to extend on Friday against the Blue Jackets.
Columbus is coming in hot. The Jackets carry a season-high five-game winning streak with them to Washington, and they've earned points in eight straight (6-0-2).
Columbus has the additional advantage of not having to split its goaltenders this weekend. The Jackets don't have another set of back-to-backs until Jan. 6-7 in Los Angeles and Anaheim, respectively, and should be able to ride the hot hand of goaltender Joonas Korpisalo until then if they choose to do so. Korpisalo won his 17th game just before the break, establishing a personal single-season high. He is responsible for all of the Jackets' wins this season.
In 10 December appearances (nine starts), Korpisalo is 6-2-2 with a shutout (against the Caps), a 1.96 GAA and a .930 save pct. He has yielded a total of eight goals during the life of the Jackets' five-game winning streak.