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Blue Jackets, Caps try to end year on high note

by Brian Hunter /
CAPITALS (19-15-2) at BLUE JACKETS (10-22-5)


Last 10:
Washington 6-3-1; Columbus 2-6-2

Season Series:
This is the only meeting of the season between these inter-conference opponents. They last met on March 31, with Capitals forward Jason Chimera scoring 2:30 into overtime for a 4-3 victory over the Blue Jackets. Chimera played parts of five seasons for Columbus before he was dealt to Washington on Dec. 28, 2009.

Big Story:
Both teams will be hoping for better fortunes in 2012 and can use this game as a springboard for positive momentum heading into the new year. Washington was swept out of the second round of the playoffs last spring and currently finds itself outside the top eight in the Eastern Conference. Columbus sits last in the overall NHL standings and, after making its first postseason appearance in 2009, faces a third straight early offseason if it can't mount a furious second-half rally.

Team Scope:

Capitals: If any one individual for Washington has to be excited to leave 2011 behind, it's probably Alex Ovechkin. The Great Eight finished last season with a career-low 32 goals -- he'd scored at least 50 in five of his first six NHL seasons -- and entering Friday's game against Buffalo he had just 12 in 35 games. But Ovechkin has solved Ryan Miller frequently throughout his career, and that continued in the Capitals' 3-1 win at Verizon Center. Ovi opened the scoring on a deflection goal off the stick of a Sabres defenseman just 1:42 in, and capped it in the third by one-timing a feed from Nicklas Backstrom, who also scored.

"In the locker room, we just say we owe them, and we just have to have a pretty good start," Ovechkin said, referring to a pair of earlier defeats to the Sabres. He now has 14 goals career in 21 games against Miller.

Blue Jackets: A four-game road trip looms to start 2012, but Columbus can end this year with consecutive wins after an impressive 4-1 victory Thursday night in Dallas snapped a six-game skid. The Blue Jackets ruined the return of Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen, as Steve Mason stopped 36 shots to win their duel and Antoine Vermette scored the tie-breaking second-period goal. Rick Nash added his second of the game in the third and Fedor Tyutin finished the scoring into an empty net.

"A lot of people have wondered if everybody cares on this team," Mason said. "We put in a good effort. There have been a lot of hurdles to overcome, whether it's bad breaks or bad performance. So it's nice to get a win."

Who's Hot:
Ovechkin has 4 goals and 3 assists during a five-game points streak for the Capitals. Backstrom and Alexander Semin are also heating up. Backstrom has 4 goals and 7 assists over his last 10 games, while Semin has 4 goals and 4 assists in his last six games. Tomas Vokoun has stopped 72 of 75 shots (.960 save percentage) over his last three games, two starts and one relief appearance, and also picked up his second assist of the season Friday. … Mason has stopped 61 of 63 shots (.968 save percentage) while going 1-0-1 over his last two starts for the Blue Jackets. Mark Letestu has assisted on a goal in three straight games.

Injury Report:
Washington forward Mathieu Perreault missed Friday's game with an upper-body injury. Defensemen Mike Green hasn't played since mid-November due to a groin injury. … Columbus lost defenseman James Wisniewski for six weeks with a broken ankle suffered in the second period Thursday. Forward Kristian Huselius has been out since early December with a groin injury and defenseman Radek Martinek since late October with a concussion.

Stat Pack:
Backstrom's goal Friday was the 100th of his career. … Blue Jackets defenseman John Moore picked up his first two career assists in what was his 28th NHL game. Moore's first point was a goal scored Oct. 25 against the Red Wings.

Puck Drop: Thursday's win was like a late Christmas present for Columbus coach Scott Arniel, who hopes it serves a blueprint for what his team can accomplish going forward.

"After all the things that have kind of backfired on us in the last few weeks, that was a great 20-man effort," Arniel said. "From getting an early lead to building on that lead, and then not giving up a whole lot at the end, it was a solid effort."

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