Who: Washington Capitals
Where: Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.
Know thine enemy: The Capitals are winners of their past two after dropping the previous five games. The main issue comes back to goaltending and defense. The Caps are in the bottom third of the league in goals against per game and part of that rests on the tandem of Braden Holtby (4-3-2, 2.59 GAA, .901 save percentage) and Justin Peters (2-2-1, 2.98 GAA, .882%). They need to be better if the Caps are going to stay on the right track and this could be a make-or-break year for Holtby in particular.
Offensively, the Caps are deep and scoring at a rate few in the NHL can match, especially on the power play (the Caps are 2nd at a 28.9% success rate). Ovechkin has finally turned things around over his last five games, with a goal and seven assists after being held off the stat sheet in the five games prior to that. Rookie Andre Burakovsky is off to a nice start himself, with 10 points in 14 games.
Defensively, the biggest contributions come in the form of offense. John Carlson and Mike Green both have more than 10 points, giving the Caps six players with at least double-digits. Brooks Orpik continues to struggle, sitting at a -5 on the year and second on the team with 20 penalty minutes.
The story is the same as it’s always been with the Caps: goals in bunches going both ways. They’ll score a ton but they’re also going to let in their fair share and the Jackets are going to have to step it up tonight if they want to contain the Washington offense.
About the Blue Jackets: Things are getting ugly in Columbus. The Blue Jackets haven’t won since October 23rd, riding an eight-game losing streak (0-7-1) into tonight’s contest. Despite being “close” to a return, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is still out of the lineup which means the starting job will go to the struggling Curtis McElhinney or the heavily struggling Alex Forsberg. Either way, this isn’t the team you want to face with your backup goaltenders.
Once you get past the crease, it doesn’t look much more optimistic. Eight regulars are out of the lineup due to injury and a ninth (Jack Johnson) will miss the game as part of his three-game suspension for elbowing Jiri Tlusty.
Every game right now is getting to be make-or-break for the Jackets. The further they dig themselves in, the harder it becomes to dig themselves out even when they get everyone back from injury. If they can get off the skids, start playing good hockey and just hold the fort, their season might not be over just yet.
The last time these two played:
The part where I predict things: With that many bodies out of the lineup and your starting goalie, who has a Vezina Trophy under his belt, on the shelf with them, it’s hard to see much in the way of positive items when addressing this team.
Sure, Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno continue to play well, but they’re going to need some help in order to win some games. Bringing back that tenacious, physical, Western Conference-like physicality is step one to righting the ship.
Score: 3-2 Capitals
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