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Blue Jackets, Capitals seek points before break

by Jon Lane

CAPITALS (24-21-8) at BLUE JACKETS (26-23-4)


Last 10: Washington 3-5-2; Columbus 7-3-0

Season series: The Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets play for the fourth and final time this season. Washington has taken two of three, with Columbus winning 5-1 in the teams' previous game on Jan. 17.

Big story: A win Thursday would be the Capitals' first against a Metropolitan Division opponent since Dec. 27 (New York Rangers). Washington and Columbus each have 56 points, but the Blue Jackets are ahead in the standings with more regulation and overtime wins.

The Capitals are after their first three-game winning streak since Dec. 7-10 and know each point is crucial playing in a packed division.

"Guys realize we have to get wins, we want to have a good feeling going into the Olympic break," forward Jason Chimera said. "If you're in the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs looking down during the Olympic break it's going to be a better break instead of looking up that whole time. You want to know you're in a good position."

The Blue Jackets have lost three straight following an eight-game winning streak, but are 6-1-0 while outscoring opponents 32-17 in their past seven games against division foes at Nationwide Arena.

Team Scope:

Capitals: A busy schedule with four games in five days and seven in 12 before the Olympic break led coach Adam Oates to switch to an optional practice Wednesday.

"No question [Thursday] is a big game for us," Oates said. "That's why we got rest and that's why we have to prepare and hopefully have a good game."

Blue Jackets: Late last week Columbus was in third place and one point out of second, but the Blue Jackets sit in fifth following their longest skid since losing five in a row from Oct. 27-Nov. 7. A 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday was the second of a back-to-back and the Blue Jackets' third game in four nights.

''It took a long time [to get everyone skating] and some guys still aren't going,'' Columbus coach Todd Richards said. ''To me, that's it right there. We're a good team when we have 18 skaters going and we were missing too many [Tuesday].''

Who's hot: Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin had four points (two goals, two assists) in a 5-4 overtime win Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres. He has five goals and three assists in his past five games and leads the NHL with 38 goals. … Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski has at least one point in seven of his past nine games.

Injury report: Capitals forward Mikhail Grabovski (ankle) is not on the road trip. Defenseman Jack Hillen (right tibia surgery) skated Monday and hopes to return before the end of the season. … Blue Jackets right wing Blake Comeau (knee) left the game Tuesday in the second period after missing the prior nine. Although he returned in the third, he played one shift. Forward Marian Gaborik (broken collarbone) began skating on his own last week but has yet to resume shooting. He told the Columbus Dispatch that playing in any games before the Olympic break begins Feb. 8 is "impossible, I think." Defenseman David Savard (illness) will miss his fourth straight game. Forward Jared Boll (bruised left foot) is on injured reserve.


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