Dec. 9 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Columbus Blue Jackets 11-13-4
Washington Capitals 22-4-5
Fresh from a triumphant four-game road trip and carrying a six-game winning streak, the Caps return to the District for a two-game homestand, starting with a Monday night Metropolitan Division tilt against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Washington's early season schedule was heavily laced with Atlantic Division and Western Conference opponents, and it's also been a little on the light side with Metro foes. That will begin to shift in the weeks ahead, and Monday's game is the first of three against Columbus this month, and the first of seven of the next 11 against Metro opposition. Starting with Monday's game, the Caps will play three of their next eight against Columbus.
For the Caps, the biggest and best news is the return of Nicklas Backstrom to the lineup on Monday after an absence of eight games because of an upper body injury. Washington managed to go 6-1-1 in his absence, but will welcome him back with open arms against Columbus.
Backstrom accompanied the team on its four-game, weeklong trip to Detroit and California, taking part in morning skates and in a full practice in San Jose last week, but he was not cleared to play in any of the games. That clearance came on Sunday, when Backstrom again practiced with his teammates, this time with the knowledge that he will draw back into the lineup on Monday.
Video: Reirden | December 8
"It was good to see him out there in full practice," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "We did some drills specifically to help prepare him for [Monday]. So he's good to go for [Monday]."
Backstrom will man the middle of a line with Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov will skate between Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie. Although he didn't play on the recent trip, Backstrom watched every game intently.
"I feel like everything is clicking right now," he says. "People talk about how we're scoring a lot of goals and stuff like that, but I think our game defensively has been really good lately, and [Braden Holtby] and [Ilya Samsonov] have been great back there too. It's a combination of everything. You've just got to keep going."
For the first time this season, the Caps have yielded 30 or fewer shots on goal and two or fewer goals against in each of four straight games. Since Nov. 1, the Caps have yielded only 40 goals in 17 games, the third fewest in the league over that span. They've forged a 13-2-2 record over that stretch.
"First of all, it's a confident group that believes in ourselves," says Caps left wing Carl Hagelin. "We believe in our system. I think defensively, we played pretty well this trip. We didn't give up a whole lot. Our goalies were there when we needed them, but I think that's what stood out the most, just our details to the defensive side and especially not giving up a ton of those grade A chances."
Last season, the Caps had a pair of seven-game winning streaks. They won each of their last seven games of November (Nov. 16-30, 2018), taking six of the seven in regulation. Washington also won seven straight games from Feb. 24-March 10 of this year, taking five of those wins in regulation. They'll be aiming to match those streaks on Monday against Columbus.
Video: Caps 365 | December 8
During the life of their current winning streak, the Caps have trailed for just over 54 minutes of more than 360 minutes of hockey they've played. Over the course of their first 31 games of the season, the Caps have held the lead for 852:20, tops in the NHL. They've spent 420:01 trailing on the scoreboard this season, the second lowest figure in the circuit.
Half of Washington's 22 wins have come by a single goal, and they are 11-1-5 in one-goal games this season.
The 2019-20 Caps are now 14-2-1 on the road. They've already managed one more road win than the 2005-06 Capitals (13-23-5) managed in the entirety of Alex Ovechkin's rookie season.
Washington is 8-2-3 on home ice in 2019-20, but it is 8-1-2 in its last 11 games in the District.
For the Jackets, Monday night's game marks the second stop on a four-game road trip up and down the Eastern Seaboard (actually, down and up), a journey that began on Saturday night in Florida when they faced former teammate Sergei Bobrovsky for the first time since his offseason signing with the Panthers. Columbus came out on the wrong end of a 4-1 decision in that game.
Saturday's loss is the Jackets' fourth in a row (0-4-0), and they'll be seeking to avoid matching their longest slide of the season on Monday. Columbus had a five-game winless run (0-4-1) from Oct. 26-Nov. 5.
Columbus went all in on the playoffs last season from a personnel standpoint, an admirable and applaudable gambit that got it through the first round with a stunning four-game sweep of the Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning. But the Jackets couldn't get past Boston in the second round, bowing out in six games. Over the summer, the team lost Bobrovsky to Florida, Artemi Panarin to the Rangers, and Matt Duchene to Nashville via free agency. In its last two losses, Columbus has fallen to Bobrovsky (33 saves) and the Panthers on Saturday and Panarin (game-winning goal) and the Rangers on Thursday.