Bobrovsky departed for Florida via free agency over the summer, leaving Joonas Korpisalo as the heir apparent to the No. 1 netminding gig in Columbus. And Korpisalo has frustrated the Caps early in his career as the Jackets' go-to guy in net. Coming into Friday night's game against the Caps in Washington, he owned a 1.07 GAA and a .966 save pct. in four games (three starts) and a perfect 3-0-0 record against the Capitals.
T.J. Oshie's power-play goal in overtime gave the Caps a 2-1 win over Korpisalo and the Jackets on Friday, but the victory didn't come until after Korpisalo extended his shutout streak against Washington to more than 100 minutes. The Caps trailed 1-0 headed to the third, and they finally solved the Finnish goaltender when Carl Hagelin scored on his own rebound, after his first shot hit the goalpost.
Washington is now 8-3-0 in the month of December, and two of those losses this month came at the hands of Columbus. The Jackets swarmed the Caps with their forecheck in a 5-2 win in Washington on Dec. 9, and Korpisalo blanked them on 30 shots in a 3-0 whitewashing in Columbus on Dec. 16.
On Friday night, the Caps kept the Jackets within reach as Ilya Samsonov (27 saves) was excellent in his own right, and they used a couple of second-chance opportunities to finally take a won over Korpisalo and Columbus.
Video: Oshie leads Capitals past Blue Jackets in OT
"I think we did a better job through the neutral zone," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "We weren't allowing them to ramp up as much speed and get in on the forecheck. So when you disrupt a little bit of the neutral zone structure, that doesn't allow them to get as much speed and as much energy, and a five-man forechecking unit when you can disrupt some things in the neutral zone. So that's something that we talked about doing a little bit better job of. And then the execution of making sure that it's a six-man job and we've got to support the puck underneath and make sure we're not giving up any chances."
On The Board - Hagelin has had a number of excellent scoring chances - particularly of late - and his first goal of the season was a critical one. Hagelin got in on the forecheck, and he and Evgeny Kuznetsov forced a turnover high in the Columbus zone. Linemate Richard Panik made a terrific no-look feed between his legs to set up Hagelin's goal, his first in 35 games, since March 20.
Video: CBJ@WSH: Hagelin finishes Panik's incredible dish
"Yeah, it was a great pass," says Hagelin. "He's been on my side the whole time. He's been trying to find me out there, and I've just missed some good looks, but today it went in."
Hagelin's speed and his defensive acumen make him an asset even when he isn't scoring. But as the season wears on and draws nearer to its midpoint, it's difficult to see that zero next to your name in the goals column, especially for a veteran player with an established history of delivering a certain level of production.
"For me, it doesn't come down to getting points or anything, but you always want to help out," says Hagelin. "Playing on the third line, you want to chip in offensively obviously, but we've been playing well defensively and I've been feeling good on the PK, which is a big part of my job description on this team.
"Obviously we've taken a lot of penalties; today we didn't do it, which is nice. It's always a process, it's just a matter of doing what it takes to win games, whether that's playing well defensively or chipping in here and there."
Five Alive - With his mother in the stands watching him play for the first time in the NHL, Samsonov won his fifth straight start on Friday. He made some excellent stops to keep the Jackets from grabbing an early lead as they had done in each of the previous two meetings earlier in the month, and had a good night punching shots away with his blocker.
"Yeah, he was big," says Oshie of Samsonov. "He was really big in a couple of moments early where we had some breakdowns and they got some Grade A scoring chances. He has been great all year. He is one of the more - or maybe the most - consistent young goaltenders that I've seen, coming into the league in his first year, and he has juts consistently played well. It's been great having him, and great seeing him grow."
Video: Postgame | December 27
Since dropping a 5-2 decision to the Canadiens in Washington on Nov. 15, Samsonov is 5-0-0 with a 1.76 GAA and a .927 save pct. in six appearances (five starts).
True Grit - Coming out of the three-day holiday break, the Caps learned that both Michal Kempny and Radko Gudas were dealing with flu-like symptoms and weren't able to take part in Friday's morning skate. The Caps recalled Christian Djoos from AHL Hershey, went with five defensemen for the skate, and hoped that either Kempny or Gudas would rally in time to be inserted into the lineup on Friday night.
Kempny couldn't go, ending a streak of 30 straight games with the same six defensemen for Washington, but Gudas gutted it out, suiting up and logging 11:20 on the night, including 1:51 worth of shorthanded ice time. Gudas still managed to lay five hits, tying Tom Wilson for the team high.
Djoos saw his first NHL action of the season, skating 12:39 and finishing at plus-1.
Climbing The Ladder - John Carlson suited up for his 727th game in a Caps sweater on Friday, moving ahead of Rod Langway for second place on Washington's all-time list for games played by a defenseman. Only Calle Johansson (983) has lined up for more games than Carlson among all Caps blueliners in franchise history.
Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears were on the road Friday night, where they won a wild 6-5 overtime decision over the Comets in Utica at Adirondack Bank Center.
Garrett Pilon got the Bears started, scoring twice in a span of 11 seconds early in the first to stake the visitors to a 2-0 lead. Pilon's fourth and fifth goals of the season both came on single assists from Mike Sgarbossa. Ninety seconds after Pilon's second goal, Kody Clark netted his first professional goal to make it a 3-0 Hershey lead at 7:45 of the first, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Brian Pinho assisting.
After the Comets got one back, Joe Snively notched his eighth goal of the season to make it a 4-1 game at 13:10 of the first, getting help from Sgarbossa and Tyler Lewington.
Utica chipped away, finally tying the game at 4-4 just ahead of the six-minute mark of the third. With a shorthanded goal at 12:54 of the third - his fifth goal of the season - Pinho restored the Hershey lead at 5-4 with a single assist from Jonsson-Fjallby.
The Comets answered back quickly and forced overtime, and that's when Sgarbossa won it for the Bears on a power play, scoring his 11th of the season at 2:35 of the extra session with help from Bobby Nardella and Pilon.
Vitek Vanecek stopped 18 of 23 shots to improve to 10-4-1 on the season.
The victory was Hershey's ninth straight, raising its record to 17-9-2-3, good for third place in the AHL's Atlantic Division. The Bears are back home on Saturday, hosting the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Giant Center.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays made it a clean sweep Friday night for the Washington organization, earning a 3-1 road win over the Gladiators in Atlanta.
Tim Harrison, Matthew Weis and Max Novak scored to support Logan Thompson's 26-save efforts in the South Carolina nets. Thompson improves to 10-2-1-0 on the season.
The 22-2-3-1 Stingrays own the ECHL's best record and an eight-point lead over second-place Florida in the league's South Division. South Carolina is back in action on Saturday night when it hosts Orlando at North Charleston Coliseum.
By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps with 28:06 in ice time … Alex Ovechkin had seven shots on net and a dozen shot attempts to lead Washington … Dmitry Orlov blocked three shots to lead the Caps … Nicklas Backstrom won nine of 14 draws (64 percent).