First off, let's get one thing out of the way. Winning 16 consecutive games in the National Hockey League in 2016-17 is an incredibly impressive achievement. The quality of hockey in this league right now is better than it's ever been, and there is more parity in the league than ever. Those are just two of the reasons the league will grow to 31 teams next season.
Regardless of which teams you played or didn't play along the way, putting together 16 straight victories is remarkable. It's 20 percent of a regular season. So kudos to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a feat that's been matched or exceeded by only one other club in the nearly 100-year history of the NHL.
The 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins won 17 straight games at the end of that season, and that's the only streak longer than the 16-game streak Columbus brought to Verizon Center on Thursday night. The Capitals kept the Jackets from matching Pittsburgh's mark, whitewashing Columbus 5-0 behind a 29-save effort from Braden Holtby and a four-line Washington attack.
Video: Holtby earns Thursday's Pepsi Zero Sugar Shutout
"You're disappointed, obviously," says Jackets captain Nick Foligno. "You hate to lose. It's been a while since we felt this in this room. So yeah, it's tough when you have [the league record] that close. But then you go back to what we've accomplished here, 16 wins is a heck of a lot of wins in this league, and it's a hard league to win in.
"There is a lot of pride in this room, too. We're going to treat it like any other game here. When you win, you enjoy it and you get ready for the next one. When you lose, you think about it and you get ready for the next one. That's what we're doing here."
For the Capitals, breaking the Jackets' streak amounted to taking matters into their own hands and doing something they've been unable to do for the previous 40 days, gain ground on Columbus in the Metropolitan Division standings.
"As well as they've played," says Caps right wing Justin Williams of the Jackets, "there are a lot of other teams behind them that have played just as well. I think they're only four points up on the next team after winning 16 in a row. It's a tough division, it's going to be a grind the whole way through, and I'm excited for it."
Columbus returns home for a set of back-to-back games at home this weekend, both against Metropolitan Division opponents. The Jackets have played only six of their first 37 games against Metro foes, and the Caps handed them their first divisional setback on Thursday.
Instead of trying to set the league record for longest winning streak on Saturday at home against the New York Rangers, the Jackets will be trying to start a new streak and to protect what is only a three-point lead in the division over Pittsburgh and the Rangers. The Jackets hold a game in hand on Pittsburgh and four on New York.
"I love it that it's a divisional game and a team that we can just use that emotion off of," says Foligno. "And going back home and playing in front of our fans where we've had a lot of success, I think it's a great opportunity for us to get right back on the horse and get going again. I think the guys are going to look forward to having a day off here and then getting back to work on Saturday morning."
Four Score - For the second time in their last four games, the Capitals got at least one goal from each of their four forward lines.
All four units contributed at least a goal in the Caps' 6-2 win over the Devils in New Jersey on Saturday, and all four chipped in to account for Washington's first four goals in Thursday's win over Columbus.
"It's great," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. "If we're going to be successful, we need that. We need all four lines to produce. Today we had a strong game from all four lines, so we've just got to keep it going that way."
Fourteen different Washington skaters have scored during the life of the Caps' current four-game winning streak. The Caps got goals from six different skaters in Saturday's win at New Jersey, they got goals from six different players in Tuesday's win over the Leafs, and five different Capitals found the back of the net in the win over Columbus.
Blueline Bonanza - For the third time in as many games, the Caps got goals from a pair of different blueliners in Thursday's game.
Karl Alzner and Taylor Chorney supplied all of Washington's offense in its 2-1 win over Ottawa on Sunday. John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov scored for the Caps in Tuesday's triumph over Toronto. And Carlson and Nate Schmidt both scored in Thursday's win over the Jackets, meaning five different defensemen have scored for the Capitals in the team's last three games.
Video: CBJ@WSH: Schmidt pads lead with rebound goal in 2nd
Schmidt's goal was his first of the season, and his first in almost exactly a year, since Jan. 7, 2016. The tally ended a 67-game dry spell.
On the season, Washington defensemen have now contributed 83 points (14 goals, 69 assists) in 38 games for an average of 2.18 points per game. Since 1995-96, the Caps have had more offensive contribution from their blueline in only two seasons. The 2014-15 blueline group averaged 2.22 points per game and the 2009-10 model finished at 2.20.
Bounce Back - Holtby doesn't have many off nights, and when he does have the rare subpar performance, he prides himself on being able to right the ship quickly, to come back and deliver a better performance in his next outing.
Holtby was dented for three goals on eight shots in 20 minutes of work on Tuesday against the Maple Leafs. He was pulled from that game in favor of Philipp Grubauer after the first period, and anyone who knows him knew he'd be hard to beat his next time out.
With the game still close in the early stages of the second period, Holtby made a series of clutch stops to keep Columbus from having anything to feel good about, from having anything from which it might derive a spark.
Video: CBJ@WSH: Holtby kicks out right pad to deny Foligno
"It took a performance like Holtby's to finally knock us off," says Foligno. "Things were just hitting him, and we had chances - glorious chances - that we seemed to shoot into him, or even shots through screens and he somehow swallowed them up.
"Credit to him, he played outstanding tonight. A lot of those times, the pucks were bouncing off and going in for us. It was just one of those games where it wasn't, and that was the difference."
Since the start of the 2014-15 season - and including his 29-save shutout over the Blue Jackets on Thursday night - Holtby is now 9-1-0 with two shutouts, a 1.97 GAA and a .934 in starts immediately following games in which he was pulled.
Video: CBJ@WSH: Winnik buries a loose puck top shelf
Home Cooking - Daniel Winnik scored the game's first goal at 5:06 of the first frame, netting his sixth of the season. All six of his goals in 2016-17 have come on home ice, starting with the pair he netted in Washington's home opener back on Oct. 15 against the New York Islanders.
Winnik's goal on Thursday also turned out to be the game-winner, his second game-winning goal of the season and the 10th of his NHL career.
By The Numbers - Matt Niskanen led the Caps with 23:18 in ice time, and Orlov paced Washington with 21:11 in even strength ice time … Evgeny Kuznetsov led the Capitals with four shots on net; and he, Carlson, Winnik and Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with five shot attempts each … Tom Wilson led Washington with three hits … Karl Alzner led the Caps with three blocked shots … Five Washington wingers combined to go 0-for-7 on the face-off dot in Thursday's game.