The Washington Capitals will look to continue to climb in the standings when they take on the Columbus Blue Jackets for a Saturday night showdown. The Capitals (8-4-2) are 7-1-1 in their last nine games and are on a three-game win streak. They are currently sitting in second place in the Metropolitan Division.
Here are the projected lines:
Alex Ovechkin – Dylan Strome – Tom Wilson
Sonny Milano – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Anthony Mantha
Matthew Phillips – Connor McMichael – T.J. Oshie
Beck Malenstyn – Nic Dowd – Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Lucas Johansen – John Carlson
Rasmus Sandin – Nick Jensen
Alex Alexeyev – Trevor van Riemsdyk
Scratched: Joel Edmundson (Hand), Nicklas Backstrom (hip), Hendrix Lapierre, Aliaksei Protas
The last time these two teams faced off was back on Nov. 4, when the Caps defeated the Jackets 2-1. The Caps got out to a 2-0 lead thanks to Tom Wilson and Sonny Milano and that would be all the game wrote outside of a second period goal from the Jackets. Furthermore, they played each other twice in the preseason.
“It makes it easier on the pre scout and even for our guys that they know and especially playing Columbus twice in the preseason, so you get a feel for their style of play and their personnel,” Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery said. “So, it does make it easier, [but it] doesn’t mean that you’re going to perform any better because they’re in the exact same spot, but it does make it easier from a preparation standpoint.”
The Caps are getting healthy. Trevor van Riemsdyk and Anthony Mantha will return to the Capitals lineup. Mantha had missed the last three games after taking a puck to the face against the Florida Panthers and van Riemsdyk had missed the last four games with a lower-body injury he sustained against Columbus.
Darcy Kuemper will dress but it is unclear as to whether he will be in between the pipes. But it is hard to imagine that he will start because of how strong Charlie Lindgren was in the 3-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. He stopped all 35 shots and earned his first shutout as a Capital.
Meanwhile, Joel Edmundson could make his season debut on Saturday. Carbery said that he is “to be determined”. However, it is unlikely because he was paired with Dylan McIlrath at Friday’s practice.
Washington has scored the game’s first goal in five straight games, after failing to do so in eight out of their first nine contests. The Caps are now 5-0-1 when drawing first blood.
“I think we were doing a lot of really good things for a while and the pucks just weren’t going in at the right times,” Wilson said. “When you don’t have your best in those games, maybe when the other team is kind of pushing a little bit, you get the first goal, that can kind of give you some life or you get a goal late in the game or in certain circumstances, it can really help you out and help swing the momentum in your favor.”
Washington’s power play continues to struggle and is now 0-for-19 in the last seven games. During Friday’s practice, Connor McMichael was on the first power play unit replacing Evgeny Kuznetsov, who did not practice due to illness. If Kuznetsov is unable to suit up, then McMichael will get a big chance to prove himself.
Matthew Phillips was demoted to the second unit after he was on the first line against Vegas.
Capitals power play lines
PP1: Ovechkin, McMichael, Carlson, Strome, Wilson
PP2: Oshie, Sandin, Phillips, Milano, Mantha
— Jacob Cheris (@JCheris17) November 17, 2023
“We’re just working through it. We’ve got a lot of things that we need to get better at, a lot of areas that we need to improve on. And a lot of it is from built up habits and things that have been done a certain way for so long and are just challenging to break and challenging to correct,” Carbery said. “It’s not a lack of effort. It’s not a lack of preparation with the work being put in, but we need some results and so we will continue to hammer away at it and correct the things and build in new habits and things that we just need to do a way better job of.”
The man-advantage is currently dead last in the league at 7.3%.
Columbus (4-9-4) has dropped seven straight games coming into D.C. and are 1-7-2 in its last 10. The Blue Jackets are coming off a 3-2 loss against the Arizona Coyotes. They have had a very tough time scoring and keeping the puck out of the net. They have given up 3.53 goals per game, which is seventh most in the NHL, and are scoring 2.71 goals per game, which is 27th in the league.
The lone bright spot for Columbus has been its penalty kill. The short-handed unit is currently at 87.8% which is the fourth best in the NHL. The Jackets have taken 62 penalties which is 10th least overall.
Player To Watch
Defenseman Zach Werenski has four assists in his last five games. He leads the Blue Jackets with 10 points (one goal, nine assists).
Puck drop is slated for 7:30 p.m. at Capital One Arena. The game can be streamed on Monumental Sports Network.
By Jacob Cheris