The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals face the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second time in a week when they visit Ohio on Monday night. The Caps will be looking to even the score with the Blue Jackets in the season series after dropping a 5-2 decision last Monday in Washington. That loss is the only blemish on the Caps’ record over their last nine games (8-1-0) and the only regulation loss suffered by the Caps in almost a month, since a 4-1 loss to the Rangers in New York on November 20th. On the other side, Columbus’ win over Washington is their only win over their last seven games (1-4-2), and they have lost three of their last four games on home ice.
Then and Now…
This will be the 42nd regular season meetings of the Caps and Blue Jackets, Washington holding a 245-11-5 (one tie) record against Columbus, 12-7-2 on the road. Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 20-10-5 against the Blue Jackets overall, 9-6-2 in Columbus.
Active Leaders vs. Opponent…
Columbus is not an especially prolific team when it comes to scoring goals, but someone has to lead the team, and at the moment that someone is Pierre-Luc Dubois, the only player for Columbus having hit double digits in goals scored. Despite his teammates’ struggles at finding the back of the net, Dubois is on pace to finish the season with 26 goals, which would challenge his career best of 27 set last year, his sophomore season in the league. Where his teammates’ problems appear in his numbers are in his assists. Dubois has ten, and at that pace would finish with the fewest of his three-year career (26).
Dubois has taken on a bigger offensive load with the departure of Artemi Panarin for the New York Rangers in one at least one respect. His shot frequency has increased significantly, jumping from 2.12 shots per game last season to 2.53 shots per game going into this contest. There do appear to be limits as to the effectiveness of the increased shooting frequency. Four seems to be the magic number. Four times this season Dubois recorded more than four shots and has one goal on 21 shots to show for it, the Blue Jackets splitting the games (2-2-0). On the other end, though, he has not made much of fewer chances. In the 13 games in which he recorded one or two shots on goal, he has only one goal on 21 shots. His output has dried up of late, though, going his last ten games without a goal. Dubois is 1-3-4, plus-2, in nine career games against the Caps.
Among Columbus defensemen, fans probably recognize Seth Jones. They might also know Zach Werenski or Ryan Murray on the Blue Jacket blue line. Even Markus Nutivaara might be known to more than a few fans. Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, though, Werenski, Murray, and Nutivaara reported as injured. That places more of a burden on rookie defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov. Chances are that is a name fans outside of Columbus do not recognize. He was taken in the sixth round (159th overall) in the 2015 Entry Draft, the 54th defenseman of 74 taken in that draft. He was taken 30 spots ahead of Nutivaara not played a game in the NHL before this season, while Nutivaara dressed for 207 games over three years before this season. Gavrikov has not made a big dent in the offensive side of the ledger (2-2-4 in 31 games), but he has been getting more ice time as the Columbus defensive ranks thin out. Over his first 24 games he averaged 15:00 in ice time, but over his last seven he is averaging almost three minutes more a game (17:56). In his only appearance to date against the Caps, last week, he went without a point and was plus-3 in 14:45 of ice time.
Next in the “Name That Blue Jacket” contest is forward Alexandre Texier. Another rookie, although he did get into two games for Columbus last season. The second round pick from the 2017 Entry Draft happens to be tied with Cam Atkiunson for the team lead in points (five) in December, and he is tied with Andrew Peeke (another rookie) for the team lead in plus-minus for the month (plus-5). Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, Texier’s contributions just have not been enough. He has points in four of the six games Columbus has played in December, and the Blue Jackets lost three of them (1-1-2), the lone win coming against the Caps when he recorded an assist. His recent production is quite a turnaround, though. He was 3-1-4, minus-4, in his first 22 games this season before going 3-2-5, plus-5, in his last six games. That game against the Caps last week and the assist he recorded is the only game and only point he has against the Caps in his career to date.
1. Columbus struggles to score at home. They have only 42 goals (third fewest in the league) in 17 games on home ice this season, the 2.47 goals per game second worst in the league, topping only Detroit (2.24).
2. Only Tampa Bay has allowed more shorthanded goals on home ice (four) than Columbus (three, tied with five other teams). No team has allowed more shorthanded goals on home ice without scoring one themselves that the Blue Jackets.
3. Columbus is one of four teams in the league to have taken no major penalties on home ice this season (Buffalo, Toronto, and Dallas are the others).
4. Only the New York Islanders have more overtime goals scored (four) than Columbus (three, tied with Toronto and Pittsburgh).
5. Columbus does not have elite goal scoring so far this season, but they are egalitarian about it. Of the 24 skaters to dress, 19 have at least one goal.
1. The Caps have had 24 skaters dress this season, too. Of that group, 17 have goals. The difference is that while Pierre-Luc Dubois leads the Blue Jackets with ten goals, the Caps have six players with more than that number.
2. While Columbus has two players with 20 points – Dubois and Gustav Nyquist – the Caps have seven players with more than that number.
3. No team has more players with 20 or more penalty minutes than the Caps, with seven (tied with San Jose).
4. The Caps have 11 players with game-winning goals, a total more than the win totals posted by New Jersey or Detroit so far.
5. Washington has hit the crossbar 10 times in 34 games. Last season they hit the crossbar 10 times in 82 games.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Columbus: Gustav Nyquist
When it became certain that the Blue Jackets were going to lose Artemi Panarin to free agency, they had to try to replace his goal scoring with something. The trouble is, replacing the 55 goals Panarin scored in two seasons in Columbus is not an easy task. Part of the solution was to sign Gustav Nyquist as a free agent to a four-year/$22 million contract, a far cry from the seven-year/$81.5 million deal Panarin signed with the Rangers last July. Nyquist is not and is not likely to be in Panarin’s class as a goal scorer, but he is a reliable sort who topped 20 goals four times in six seasons before this one. However, he has only seven in 32 games so far this season, an 18-goal pace (Columbus fans no doubt have noticed that Panarin already has 19 with the Rangers this season). He has fallen off of late. Since recording a hat tricj in a 5-2 win over Pittsburgh on November 29th, he is without a goal in his last seven games. And it is not a case of shooting in bad luck. Nyquist has only seven shots on goal in his last six games, three of them in the most recent game, a 4-3 overtime loss to Ottawa. Even with the hat trick against the Pens, he has a total of five goals over his last 23 games, precisely the 18-goal pace he is on overall. Nyquist is 6-7-13, plus-2, in 18 career games against the Caps.
Washington: Lars Eller
Before Lars Eller burned his name into the Capitals history book with the game-winning, series-clinching, Cup-winning goal in Las Vegas in the 2018 postseason, Lars Eller scored the goal that made all of that possible, a goal in the second overtime of Game 3 of the first round series against Columbus on the Nationwide Arena ice sheet that kept the Caps from falling into an 0-3 hole and ending their Stanley Cup dreams before they started. He added an empty net goal to clinch Game 6 for the Caps and send them on to the second round, but here is the odd thing about that. Eller has more goals scored against Columbus as a Capital in the postseason (two in six games) than he has as a Capital against the Blue Jackets in the regular season (one in 13 games). And, he does not have a point in his last six games against the Blue Jackets. Not that he has been shy about sending pucks to the net; he has 18 shots on goal in those six games without finding the back of the net (he had only eight shots on goal in his first seven games as a Cap against Columbus). If a Capital seems due to score against this team, Eller might be a player to watch. Eller is 2-3-5, minus-4, in 24 career games overall against Columbus.
In the end…
The Caps have had success against Columbus on their ice sheet in the postseason, going 3-0 in the three playoff games the teams played in Ohio. The regular season has been a different matter, the Caps going 6-5-2 in their last 13 visits to Columbus. But these are teams going in different directions at the moment. Columbus has stumbled at home recently with their 1-3-0 record over their last four games, while the Caps have been the gold standard in road play this season. Makes it hard to pick against the Caps, regardless of last week’s result.
Capitals 4 – Blue Jackets 2