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Improving Blue Jackets host slumping Capitals

by Jon Lane

CAPITALS (22-17-8) at BLUE JACKETS (22-20-4)


Last 10: Washington 3-3-4; Columbus 7-3-0

Season series: This is the third of four games between the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets. Washington is 11-3-1-1 against Columbus all-time and 2-0-0 this season. Alex Ovechkin's goal 1:34 into overtime gave the Capitals a 4-3 win in their last game on Nov. 12.

Big story: The Blue Jackets enter the game winners of a season-high four straight and play seven of their next nine at Nationwide Arena.

"I look at it as a big game," coach Todd Richards said. "I talked a little bit about that with the players, just so they can start thinking that way. But you don't want to get too caught up in it, either, where the emotion gets the better of you and you start losing focus of what you need to do."

Team Scope:

Capitals: Washington coach Adam Oates expressed concern about the team's stamina before the third period Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, knowing his team was playing the second of a back-to-back. The Penguins, playing at home, had been off since Saturday and the Capitals were in a stretch of five games in seven nights.

The Capitals led 3-2 midway through the third period, but allowed the Penguins to tie the game before rookie defenseman Olli Maatta's goal with 1:54 remaining in regulation gave Pittsburgh a 4-3 victory. Washington lost its third in a row and fifth in seven games.

"We played a pretty good game, but we figured out a way to lose it," Oates said. "We did a lot of good things in the game, and obviously you get tired of saying that, too, especially when we blow it. Tonight we play a good game, and we figure out a way to get a lead in the third against a fresher team, and we didn’t sustain it. You have to be able to."

Blue Jackets: Richards is hoping Columbus can execute a stretch run similar to last season, though with a better result. The Blue Jackets' furious push in the final stages of the 2012-13 season fell one point short of a postseason berth in the Western Conference.

"It's kind of the same things we talked about last year in the shortened season, the importance of every game," Richards said. "We're down to (36) games. So there’s not a lot left. They're becoming more important."

Who's hot: Capitals defenseman Mike Green has four assists in his past five games. Ovechkin's 34 goals lead the NHL; he has seven points (four goals, three assists) in seven games this month. … Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson has four points (three goals) in his past four games. Center Mark Letestu has four goals in five games. Forward Nathan Horton has four points in six games since returning from shoulder surgery.

Injury report: Capitals defenseman Jack Hillen (broken leg) began skating Wednesday but remains on injured reserve. … Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin (illness) did not practice Thursday. Forwards Blake Comeau (sprained knee), Jack Skille (upper body) Marian Gaborik (broken collarbone), Jared Boll (torn ankle tendon) and Oliver Gabriel (torn Achilles) are on IR.

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNHL

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