The Caps weren't anywhere near their peak in last week's game against Columbus; they yielded a single-period high of 20 shots on net in the first period and only a stellar performance from Braden Holtby kept them in the game that night. With their dads and mentors in the building tonight and cheering them on, the Capitals are seeking to show their better side tonight.
"I think we did some decent things [Saturday] in Tampa, especially in the third period," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "and I'm hoping that we build from there. And I thought that more closely resembled how we like our game the look. Our game against Columbus was well below average, and we know that and addressed some of the areas we can improve today. I'm hoping that we have a good response and improve in that regard tonight."
Tight Like This - Columbus has played 20 one-goal games this season, tops in the league. Washington is tied for second with 18. The Caps have more wins (12) in one-goal games than any team in the league, and their 12-1-5 overall mark in one-goal contests is fourth best in the league.
Washington has played nearly 75 percent of the season to date with the score tied or within a goal either way, so the Caps have played a fair amount of high-leverage hockey this season; only three other teams have played more such minutes than Washington this season. That will hopefully be useful to the Capitals down the stretch and into the playoffs.
"I think it's probably a good thing," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "You know you want to use the regular season to learn, you want to use the regular season to build your game, and you need different scenarios to do that. Those are the important type of scenarios when you're leading by a goal; they're tight games, and you need to get the job done. It's great for building a new team and getting guys to come together and get the job done, because when you are up a goal, you need blocks, you need to play the right way to close out the game, and I think that's important throughout the year, no matter what time of the year. But it's great that we've had a bit of a sample size with that and I've done a fairly good job thus far, but we want to keep building it."
The Caps' lone regulation loss in a one goal game came more than two months ago, in their fifth game of the season in a 6-5 loss to the Predators in Nashville.
"It's been one of the things that I've liked about our team thus far," says Reirden, "and through 30 plus games, is that we're playing very competitive games all the time. The league itself is different now. There's so much parity in the league, and there are so many more teams that come back from a large deficit, as we've done this year and we've seen.
Video: Reirden Pregame | December 16
"You can't have too many shifts off, and the importance for us in terms of game management is really something that I moved up on a segment focus into this 20-game [segment] because of how close it's gotten this year, and how important it is. The shifts after goals, the shift to start games, the shifts after good penalty kills and good power plays. The momentum is really important in today's game. And I think understanding that and feeling comfortable with it is important for your team to really grasp, and our team has done a great job of grasping the importance of every shift, and taking advantage of it, whether that's shutting down another team's top line, or it's taking advantage of a matchup that's in our favor or it's being able to convert and score a goal right after the opposition scored one. But there's been so many competitive games, and it's really forced us into that type of game. And to me, ultimately that's preparing you for the end of the year, so I like that it's played itself out like this."
Depth Charge - Typically, every player plays on the Mentors' Trip. Backup goaltender Ilya Samsonov started and was brilliant in Saturday's win over the Lightning, and tonight forward Travis Boyd will draw into the lineup in the middle of the fourth line, replacing Nic Dowd.
Boyd has two goals and eight points in 16 games for the Caps this season, and prior to sitting out the last three games, he had a successful run of 10 straight games in the Washington lineup, matching the longest of his career, a 10-game run from Feb. 24-March 16 late last season.
"I think it's important on the fathers' trip that everyone plays in front of their dad, so it's a situation where we can get Travis back in there," says Reirden.
Boyd has played well enough to earn more playing time, but when the Caps are fully healthy as they are now, it's difficult to crack the starting 12 of the league's top team and its second most prolific offensive group. Washington's forwards - and in particular, its bottom six forwards - have been playing well, so it's been difficult for Reirden to make an inorganic change to his lineup of late.
"Travis' offensive numbers and the opportunities that he gets speak for themselves," says Reirden. "He brings a little bit of a different element to that line, and even in-game we'll switch that a little bit. It's not that I've been unhappy with the fourth line, because I've liked it a lot. It's just that this is the right thing to do in terms of how we treat our players and approach our dads' and mentors' trip."
For Boyd, it's difficult to develop a rhythm when you're not playing regularly, but given the success he had in his aforementioned 10-game run in the lineup, he's probably coming in with more confidence tonight. He had two goals and four points in those 10 contests, and he played 10 or more minutes in nine of 10 games, getting over 16 minutes in two of them.
Tonight, he will skate in his 78th career NHL contest. He has seven goals and 29 points with a plus-15 and only 8 PIM, all while averaging just 10:04 in ice time per contest.
Video: Pregame | December 16
"I still haven't played a full rookie season yet," observes Boyd. "I haven't got to 82 career games yet. I felt like this year the big difference for me is just being more comfortable out there playing at this level and more comfortable playing with our systems and adjusting to the speed and best players in the world. It's going to take 50, 60 or 70 games before you start feeling like you're getting the hang of it. And I'm feeling like I'm getting the hang of it this year, and the confidence thing is huge.
"Throughout the games that I've played this year, I think my confidence has grown drastically and the big thing is trying to keep that confidence when now I haven't played in nine or 10 days. To be able to keep that confidence, you just need to go about it how you would even if you had played the last four games. I can't be afraid to go out there and try and make a play. If it doesn't work that's fine, just be ready for the next shift. Ultimately, this is a chance to prove why I should play and that means I need to go out there and show them why and, and I can't be afraid to mess up. Try and keep that confidence rolling and hopefully put together a good game tonight.
Hurt At Work - Washington and Columbus met a week ago in Washington, but the Jackets have lost three players to injury in the two games they've played since that Dec. 9 meeting in the District.
Forwards Sonny Milano and Josh Anderson and defenseman Ryan Murray all departed Saturday's game against the Senators in Ottawa, all with upper body injuries. None of the three will play tonight, and the Blue Jackets' list of injured and unavailable players is now eight deep.
Columbus recalled forwards Kevin Stenlund and Marko Dano from AHL Cleveland on Sunday, both on an emergency basis, and both players will suit up tonight.
Stenlund made his NHL debut against the Caps on Jan. 12 of this year in Washington, the first of four games he has played for Columbus. He is expected to see some power play time for the Jackets tonight, and he had a 10-game point streak (five goals, six assists) halted in his last game with Cleveland prior to his recall.
Dano is a former Blue Jackets first-rounder (27th overall in 2013) who has also suited up for Chicago, Winnipeg and Colorado before working his way back to the Columbus organization for the 2019-20 season. The 25-year-old Austrian had three goals and a dozen points in 25 games with Cleveland before his recall. Dano will be suiting up for the Jackets for the first time since April 11, 2015.
In The Nets - Braden Holtby gets the net on Monday for the Mentors' Trip finale in Columbus. Aiming for a sixth straight season with 30 or more victories, Holtby is more than halfway there with a league-leading total of 16 wins. He is tied with Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck and Toronto's Frederik Andersen in that department, but Holtby has started fewer games than both of those netminders.
Since Michal Kempny returned to the Washington lineup on Oct. 18 to give the Caps a fully healthy and complete group of six defensemen who have remained intact since, Holtby is 15-2-2 with a 2.48 GAA and a .923 save pct., and he has two more wins than any other goaltender in the league over that span.
Lifetime against the Blue Jackets, Holtby is 15-7-2 with a couple of shutouts, a 2.52 GAA and a .918 save pct. in 26 appearances. He won six straight decisions over Columbus from Jan. 5, 2017 to Feb. 9, 2018, but has dropped four of five against the Jackets since. Holtby's last victory over Columbus came here at Nationwide Arena just over a year ago, when he notched a 28-save shutout against the Jackets on Dec. 8, 2018, keeping the cannon quiet.
Tonight's game is the front end of a set of back-to-back games for the Blue Jackets, who visit the Red Wings in Detroit on Tuesday night. We are expecting to see Joonas Korpisalo in goal for the Jackets tonight. Korpisalo has earned all 12 of the Jackets' wins to date this season, and he stopped 37 of 39 shots he faced against Washington in the first meeting of the season between the two Metro rivals a week ago in DC.
Korpisalo has helped the Jackets to at least a point in each of his last three appearances (1-0-2). Lifetime against the Caps, he is 2-0-0 with a 1.47 GAA and a .954 save pct. in three appearances.
All Lined Up - Here is a look at how we expect the Capitals and the Blue Jackets to look on Monday night when they meet for the first of two times in Columbus this season:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 14-Panik
28-Leipsic, 72-Boyd, 21-Hathaway
14-Nyquist, 38-Jenner, 28-Bjorkstrand
50-Robinson, 18-Dubois, 42-Texier
71-Foligno, 10-Wennberg, 13-Atkinson
56-Dano, 20-Nash, 11-Stenlund
8-Werenski (lower body)
22-Milano (upper body)
27-Murray (upper body)
65-Nutivaara (upper body)
77-Anderson (upper body)
88-Sherwood (torn oblique)