The Washington Capitals (14-11-1) are looking to bounce back after a 5-2 setback against the L.A. Kings when they take on the red-hot Columbus Blue Jackets (17-8-1) Saturday night inside Capital One Arena.
By Glynn Cosker
DCpuckDrop Managing Editor
Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals
Date: Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Capital One Arena
TV: NBCSW, FS-O
While preparing for Saturday’s match-up with the Columbus Blue Jackets, news filtered in during Friday’s practice session that Washington Capitals forward Nathan Walker – the first Australian to ever play in the NHL – was claimed off waivers by the Edmonton Oilers.
Walker was waived by the Capitals Thursday after playing in only seven games all season. He scored his first and only NHL goal in his debut on Oct. 7 against the Montreal Canadiens but hasn’t registered a point since. Washington were likely hoping that Walker would clear waivers for an extended stint down in the AHL with the Hershey Bears; that did not pan out, and now the Oilers have a good opportunity to condition and develop him.
“Teams are going to get an opportunity to look at him. That’s what waivers are there for. Walks is right now not in our top 14 [forwards]. So he needs to play; he’s not getting any better [sitting],” said Capitals head coach Barry Trotz. “I think it’s the right thing to do, is to get him down. Hopefully, he gets a consistent opportunity in Edmonton and if he does and he makes, that’s fantastic. And if he doesn’t, then we have an opportunity to reclaim him.”
Capitals Continue To Improve
The Capitals have enjoyed a resurgence of late with some fine performances from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom – together again on the same line. Forward Jakub Vrana has stepped up his game since getting a healthy-scratch wake-up call a few weeks ago, and defenseman Dmitry Orlov is developing into the Capitals’ best blue-liner right now.
Backstrom comes into Saturday’s match-up on a 19-game streak without a goal. His career worst was 23 games back in 2014-15. However, his current run without a goal is not for lack of trying – he’s still one of the best players on the team. He’s done everything but score during the spell.
“Obviously, you want to score,” Backstrom stated. “You get so frustrated. I’m aware of the situation, but what am I going to do? I can’t just lay down and play dead. You’ve got to keep trying, and eventually, hopefully it’ll come.” His coach isn’t concerned:
“Nicky’s going to score some goals. History will tell you that,” said Trotz. “If you talk to him, he might not say he’s thinking about it, but he probably is a little bit. He’s proud, and he’s a productive hockey player. He’s still producing for us, just maybe not on the goal level.”
An improved fore-check, a better overall defense and fewer errors combined to give the Capitals four wins out of their last six contests as they enter Saturday’s last game of a five-game homestead. The 5-2 scoreline in Washington’s loss to the L.A. Kings Thursday was flattering for Los Angeles because of two late empty-netters that came long after the Kings scored two goals in just 11 seconds to turn the game from 2-1 Capitals to 3-2 Kings. That game was more of a case of the Capitals losing the game, rather than the Kings winning it.
Blue Jackets Enjoying A Stellar Season
The Columbus Blue Jackets have won eight of their last nine games including a 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night; they lead the Metropolitan Division with 35 points, their goalie Sergei Bobrovsky tops the netminding GAA charts for goaltenders with more than 10 games (1.92) and their average shots-per-game total (34.8) is good for third in NHL – as is their goals-against total (61). So, it will be no easy task for the Capitals despite them owning this particular match-up in recent years; the Capitals have won 14 out of the last 21 meetings between the two teams.
The Capitals have some stats in their favor against Columbus despite how well the Blue Jackets have played recently. The Blue Jackets are dead last in the NHL in converting power plays with a shocking 8.8 percent success rate – and that’s good news for a Capitals team that sits fourth in the NHL in total number of penalties. Individually, Columbus has no standout point-scorer on the team. In fact, you have to scan all the way down to 74th to see the first Blue Jacket to make the points chart in the NHL – Artemi Panarin with 19 points. However, they win games anyway, because of the man between the pipes.
Sergei Bobrovsky Playing Well
Bobrovsky is having a spectacular season so far and is a strong favorite already for the Vezina Trophy. His GAA in November was 1.88, and he’s only allowed more than two goals in six of his 20 starts; his last eight games saw him concede two or fewer goals. In short, he’s on fire. But…he’s not a fan of the Caps. In fact, he struggles against Washington going 6-7-4 over his 18 games against the Caps with a 3.02 GAA and a .905 save percentage.
In order to win against the stingy Blue Jackets, the Capitals will need to bring their A-game and the top-six forwards must play to their strengths – and they’ll need to get into Bobrovsky’s head in a hurry. Ovechkin can win any given game for the Capitals, and Columbus is one of his favorite teams to infiltrate. He has 18 points from 26 games against the Blue Jackets and averages 5.3 shots per game. Expect a close, entertaining game.