November 1 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets at Verizon Center
Time: 5:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Two-Man Advantage live pre-game video stream at 3:30 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
Columbus Blue Jackets (6-5-1)
Washington Capitals (8-2-3)
With a very prosperous (8-2-3) month of October in their rear-view mirror, the Capitals now set out to tackle the November portion of the 2009-10 regular season slate. First up are the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets provide the opposition for Washington’s first Sunday afternoon home game in November in four years.
Washington’s six-game winning streak came to a halt on Friday night at Verizon Center when the New York Islanders took a 4-3 overtime decision from the Caps. Washington has gained at least a point in eight straight games (6-0-2).
Discipline has improved recently. Washington faced five or more power plays in five of its first six games this season, but the Caps have had to face four or fewer penalty killing situations in five of their last seven games.
“That was one of the things that haunted us in the first half of the month,” says Caps center David Steckel, “our dumb penalties toward the end of the game specifically. And our power play is coming around. Those are two positives.”
The Caps have netted at least one power play goal in each of their last three games, and have had multiple power-play strikes in each of their last two. Washington is 5-for-15 (33%) with the extra man in its last three games.
“Our power play is more successful when you shoot the puck,” declares veteran right wing Mike Knuble. “If you stand around and look at the defense while they’re looking at you and nobody’s moving, anybody can defend that. Once you get the shots and guys have to turn their backs and they have to move to try and get the puck, that’s when you can outnumber guys and move the puck quicker. The puck moves faster than any skater can.
“Once you get the shots and everybody starts to cycle around, then you get the seams to open up and you’re going to have success. The times that we struggle, it’s pretty evident if you look at the tape, that it’s when we’re standing around and we’re not generating anything.
“The power play is not about being lazy and tic-tac-toeing to the net like it’s an easy thing. You’ve really got to work. And when we don’t work it’s pretty evident.”
As well as the standings show that Washington played in October, every player in the room knows the Caps are still capable of playing much better.
“There’s definitely not a ‘fat cat’ feeling around here,” says Knuble. “Guys are definitely wanting to achieve more. It’s good that the group realizes the season is not won in October.
“There is room to improve, and Bruce and the staff keeps us pretty honest. We’ve been able to skate by with wins, but you’ve got to peel back the layers and [ask ourselves], ‘Are we really playing that well? And where can we improve?’”
One area in which the Caps have improved is in goals against. Washington surrendered 18 goals in its first five games this season, an average of 3.6 per contest. Over the team’s last eight games, opponents have scored only 20 goals. That’s an average of 2.5 per game.
After roaring out to a 5-1 start to the 2009-10 season, the Jackets have fallen on hard times. Columbus is just 1-4-1 in its last six games. Most recently, the Blue Jackets squandered a two-goal lead late in the third period of a Friday home game against the Penguins, dropping a 4-3 shootout decision in the end.
Columbus is coming off its first-ever Stanley Cup playoff appearance, but it is still seeking its first-ever win in a playoff contest. The Jackets bowed out in four straight at the hands of Central Division rival Detroit.
As usual, right wing Rick Nash is the cornerstone of the Columbus attack. With 17 points (eight goals, nine assists), Nash ranks among the NHL’s top 10 scorers this season.
Center Antoine Vermette, acquired from Ottawa at the trade deadline last March in a deal that sent goaltender Pascal Leclaire to the Sens, is also off to a strong start. Signed to a lucrative multi-year deal in the off-season, Vermette has a dozen points (three goals, nine assists) in as many games.
The Jackets are getting balanced scoring. Nine different Columbus skaters have scored multiple goals in the team’s first dozen games.
Ken Hitchcock-coached teams are generally known for their adherence to defense, but the Jackets have had difficulty in their own end in the early going of the campaign. Columbus has permitted an average of 3.42 goals per game, the fifth highest total in the league. The Jackets have surrendered 28 even-strength goals, the second most of any team in the league.
For the second straight season, the Caps and Blue Jackets will meet each other twice in 2009-10. Columbus stymied the Capitals twice last season, with then-rookie goaltender Steve Mason blanking Washington by identical 3-0 scores.
Mason stopped all 71 shots the Caps sent in his direction last season, and Washington went 0-for-11 on the power play in those two games.
“We didn’t score,” remembers Boudreau of the Caps’ two losses to Columbus last season. “Three-nothing, three-nothing. Steve Mason, unbelievable. Totally frustrating the hell out of us. He was outstanding.
“He stopped everything. High shots, low shots, rebounds, tips. We might have to do something drastic.”
“If a goalie plays that well,” says Caps captain Chris Clark, “you have to get more shots and more shots and more shots. Because eventually with the odds, they are going to start going in. You just get bodies and you get shots and you get bodies and everything going at the net.