The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals return home for the first time in ten days when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night at Capital One Arena. The Caps come home on a hot streak, winners of six in a row and with the best ten-game record in the league (8-1-1, tied with Boston). Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets are sinking in the standings and are on a four-game losing streak, one short of their season longest.
Then and Now…
This will be the 41st meeting of these division rivals in the all-time series. Washington has a 24-10-5 (one tie) record against Columbus, 12-3-3 (one tie) on home ice. Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 20-9-5 against the Blue Jackets overall, 11-3-3 on home ice.
Active Leaders vs. Opponent…
Rick Nash owns most of the meaningful career records in Columbus Blue Jacket history, but Cam Atkinson is second in many of those categories and could end up on top of most of them before his years in Columbus are over. Atkinson is currently second on the all-time list in games played for the franchise (556), second in goals (191), fourth in assists (167), second in points (358), tied for fourth in plus-minus (plus-24, with Brandon Saad), second in power play goals (41), second in shorthanded goals (12), second in game-winning goals (39), and second in shots on goal (1,673). Last season he set a personal best in goals scored (41) and posted his second season of 35 or more goals in his career (he had 35 in 2016-2017).
This season, perhaps the loss of Artemi Panarin to the New York Rangers in free agency is weighing on him, creating the pressure to be the go-to goal scorer. He has only five goals in 29 games to date, only two on 53 shots (3.8 percent shooting) in his last 19 games. His goal scoring on the road has been non-existent. He has yet to record his first goal outside of Ohio, going 0-for-32 shooting in 12 road games to date. It is part of a longer goal-scoring drought on the road that extends back to last season. Atkinson has two goals in his last 22 road games dating back to last March. Washington might provide a remedy to his problems. Atkinson is 10-7-17, plus-2, in 25 career games against the Caps.
Staying healthy on the blue line has been a challenge for Columbus. Only two defensemen have dressed for all 29 games to date, Seth Jones and David Savard. Jones, a former fourth overall draft pick (of Nashville in 2013) has developed into one of the premier defensemen in the league. Savard is less renowned. Taken in the fourth round (94th overall) in the 2009 Entry Draft, the 34th defenseman drafted among 70 defensemen taken overall, only four defensemen taken in that draft have dressed for more than the 518 games on Savard’s resume (Victor Hedman: 721, Oliver Ekman-Larsson: 688, Nick Leddy: 683, and Dmitry Kulikov: 651). He has not been a big point-getter, but he has been consistent, posting more than 20 points in four of his six full seasons before this one. However, like many Blue Jackets it seems, the off-season changes have left him struggling to contribute. He has only four assists and no goals in 29 games to date and has yet to post a point on the road this season. Savard is 3-1-4, even, in 24 career games against the Caps.
With the changes in Columbus come opportunities for young players. The Blue Jackets have dressed six rookies so far this season, a group led in scoring by forward Emil Bemstrom. Taken in the fourth round of trhe 2017 Entry Draft (117th overall), Bemstrom might not have received a lot of attention in the draft, but with 28 games on his resume to date (all of them this season), he has more NHL games under his belt than any player taken after the second round of that 2017 draft so far. He has run into a bit of a wall, though. Bemstrom was 3-5-8, even, in his first 20 games this season, but he is just 0-1-1, minus-2 in eight games since. At least he has points on the road, though, going 2-1-3 in 12 games. This would be Bemstrom’s first career appearance against the Caps.
1. No Blue Jacket appearing in more than three games is so much as “even” in the plus-minus ratings. Four players – Jakob Lilja, Markus Nutivaara, Eric Robinson, and Riley Nash – are minus-1.
2. The Blue Jacket power play has had its problems in one respect. No team has allowed more shorthanded goals than the Blue Jackets, the five goals tied with Calgary, Buffalo, and Edmonton for most road shorties allowed.
3. Only three teams have taken fewer penalties than the 91 charged to Columbus (New York Islanders: 90, Winnipeg: 82, and Florida: 82).
4. No team has taken fewer leads into the first intermission than Columbus (five), and no team has a worse record when doing so (2-2-1). Ditto with leads taken into the second intermission – four (fewest in the league) with a 2-1-1 record (.500 winning percentage).
5. Columbus doesn’t blow other teams out. Their two wins by three or more goals is second-fewest in the league. Only Detroit, who has yet to record such a win, has fewer.
1. The Caps don’t get blown out. Only Boston and Arizona, with one loss by three or more goals apiece, have fewer than the Caps (three, tied with Montreal and Tampa Bay).
2. The Caps and the New York Rangers are the only teams in the league without a two-goal loss this season.
3. Washington is tied with Winnipeg for the most one-goal wins so far this season (11).
4. If the Caps get shots, they win. No team has more wins when out-shooting an opponent (13), and no team has fewer losses in regulation (one, tied with the Bruins and Islanders).
5. The Caps are a top-ten team in scoring in every period this season – tied for sixth in first period goals (32), tied for second in second period goals (38), tied for fourth in third period goals (38), and tied for third in overtime goals (four). They are also fourth in total Gimmick goals scored (six).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Columbus: Joonas Korpisalo
With Sergei Bobrovsky now working on his tan in south Florida, the goaltending duties for the time being fall to Joonas Korpisalo. He is not a goaltender with a long resume. Taken in the third round (62nd overall) in the 2012 Entry Draft by the Blue Jackets, he is in his fifth NHL season. However, his 22 starts this season have already surpassed last year’s 21 starts, and his 11 wins top last year’s ten victories. Only in his 2015-2016 rookie season did he have more starts (30) and wins (16). That rookie season (16-11-4, 2.60, .920) gave him a long leash, it appears, to prove himself, and this season he has clear control of the number one spot for the first time in his career.
What Korpisalo has not done since that rookie year, and what he has not done this season, is approach the level of performance that rookie season appeared to foretell. In 81 games since that rookie season (73 starts), he is 36-30-6, 3.00, .899, with two shutouts. That includes an 11-10-1, 2.85, .900 record this season with one shutout. He has been better of late, though. After going 6-7-1, 3.13, .895 in his first 14 appearances this season, Korpisalo is 5-3-0, 2.38, .909, with the one shutout. What is ominous about that record is the he lost his last two appearances, despite facing low shot volumes, stopping only 40 of 46 shots in losses to Arizona and the Rangers. He has had his troubles in limited road action, going 3-2-0, 3.42, .903. In two career appearances against the Caps, Korpisalo is 1-0-0, 1.16, .958.
Washington: Alex Ovechkin
Three games. It does not sound like a lot, but that is the streak of game without a goal that Alex Ovechkin brings into Monday night’s game, tying his longest of the season. But no need to panic. He did have goals in each of the three games before this mini-slump. It is a case of sometimes the shots going in (five goals on 16 shots in three games) and sometimes the shots not going in (no goals on 12 shots in his last three games). What Ovechkin has been doing, regardless of being hot or cold, is ramping up his shots. The 4.74 shots per game he is averaging so far this season is his highest average since the 5.04 shots per game he posted in 2015-2016, although that average still does not rank it the top half of season averages in his career (it is ninth-highest in 15 seasons to date).
Even with the increase in shot frequency this season, Ovechkin is continuing his late career improvements in shooting efficiency. At 13.6 percent shooting this year, three of his highest six shooting percentage seasons have come in the last three years, including the career best 15.1 percent he had last season (this season’s 13.6 percent is sixth best in his career). But shots have hardly mattered much, an indicator of the depth of this team. The Caps are 11-2-5 in the 18 games in which Ovechkin recorded five or more shots on goal, 11-2-0 in the 13 games in which he had fewer than five shots on goal. In 34 career games against Columbus, Ovechkin is 17-8-25, minus-13.
In the end…
Columbus doesn’t score much on the road (second fewest goals scored on the road this season: 29), and they don’t defend well (44 goals on the road). And here is another nugget to chew on. In each of the last five seasons in the Caps’ first home game following a road trip that included the California trip, they won, twice against Winnipeg, once each against Carolina, Minnesota, and the Islanders. Time to add the Blue Jackets to that list.
Capitals 5 – Blue Jackets 2