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Game Preview #28 - Has A Corner Been Turned?

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The Blue Jackets look to push their win streak to five in a row in another important Metro tilt.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals

December 11, 2014 - 7:00 PM EST
Verizon Center - Washington, DC
Radio - WBNS 97.1 - TV - Fox Sports Ohio
Opponent's Blog: Japers' Rink

It's been literally one month (30 days) since we last played the Caps, in DC. On that night, the Jackets fell 4-2, and in the process put the capstone on their franchise worst nine-game winless (0-8-1) stretch. Since that point, Columbus has actually gone 6-5-1, so that was definitely the low point of the season in many ways. To wit, take a look at the lineup they iced that night, as copied from the preview of that game:

Brian Gibbons Ryan Johansen Nick Foligno
Scott Hartnell Boone Jenner Cam Atkinson
Dana Tyrell Alexander Wennberg Corey Tropp
Adam Cracknell Michael Chaput Jared Boll
Fedor Tyutin David Savard
Tim Erixon James Wisniewski
Frederic St. Denis Dalton Prout
Curtis McElhinney
Anton Forsberg

Wow. Just, wow. That's not the best lineup, and in that hindsight it's easier to see why the team at that point had lost eight in a row and was on their way to nine. Speaking of 6-5-1, that's the same record the Caps have over that same time span, and they sit at third in the division. So, the Jackets technically haven't made up any ground, but just the same they're playing as well as the last playoff team in the division. Hashtag progress?

Both teams are streaking right now, with Columbus winning four in a row and the Caps three in a row. In fact, they just swept a three-game road trip, and they literally never trailed, including capping off the trip much like Columbus did by winning convincingly in Tampa. The Jackets have actually been *OK* on the road overall, winning five of their 10 wins on the road. Likewise, the Caps have actually been a *worse* team at home. To me, though, this game really hinges on one thing, much like I felt Tuesday's game did: penalties. This game features two teams that have top-five Power Play units, and also that have bottom-six Penalty Kill units. Taking penalties in this game is going to equal death in a lot of cases. The Jackets, with some help from the Philly Divers, took far too many penalties the other night, especially when protecting a lead. Conversely, their Power Play was good in three of their four chances, and they notched both goals on the PP.

The Caps have scored 78 goals in 27 games, and 21 of those (26.9%) have come on the Power Play. For the Jackets, it's a similar tale: 23 of their 63 goals (36.5%!) have come on the Power Play. In other words, these teams feast on the Power Play. So, it stands to reason that the team that has the most discipline limits the other team's chances to get their best unit on the ice over and over. It's simple, really. That said, the Caps have won three in a row, and haven't allowed a PPG in that span. Columbus, also, has been better of late on the PK, having killed off 17 of their last 20 over the last six games, including five of six against Tampa Bay and Philly, two of the league's best PP units. They need to keep that up tonight.

The thing I noticed most about the Jackets on Tuesday was that they limited Philly in scoring chances. The shot attempts chart over at war-on-ice.com shows the Jackets were comfortably leading in EV attempted shots for most of the game, until they turtled up and let Philly push back in at the end of regulation. More importantly, they held Philly in the low 30s in attempted shots at EV, further hammering home the point about how silly taking penalties against a good PP/mediocre EV team is. My heart tells me that was in part because of Dubinsky coming back, but who can say? His EV Corsi For was pretty bad that night.

All things being equal, I can't imagine Todd Richards is going to do much tinkering with the lines tonight. We shall see after morning skate.

Projected Lineups

Columbus Blue Jackets
(10-15-2, 22 Points; 7th division, 14th conference)

Scott Hartnell Nick Foligno Brian Gibbons
Boone Jenner Ryan Johansen Jack Skille
Matt Calvert Brandon Dubinsky Cam Atkinson
Corey Tropp Michael Chaput Jared Boll
Jordan Leopold Dalton Prout
Jack Johnson David Savard
Kevin Connauton James Wisniewski
Sergei Bobrovsky
Curtis McElhinney

Washington Capitals
(13-10-4, 30 Points; 3rd Division, 8th Conference)

Alex Ovechkin Nicklas Backstrom Tom Wilson
Marcus Johansson Evgeny Kuznetsov Troy Brouwer
Brooks Laich Eric Fehr Joel Ward
Jason Chimera Michael Latta Jay Beagle
Brooks Orpik John Carlson
Karl Alzner Matt Niskanen
Jack Hillen Nate Schmidt
Braden Holtby
Justin Peters

Season Series

11/11/14 - Columbus 2 at Washington 4
12/11/14 - Columbus at Washington
12/18/14 - Washington at Columbus
01/27/15 - Washington at Columbus
03/03/15 - Washington at Columbus

Head to Head Stats

Washington Columbus
2.89 (10) GPG 2.33 (23)
2.67 (17) GAPG 3.30 (28)
28.8% (2) PP% 23.0% (5)
76.2% (26) PK% 76.3% (25)
Alexander Ovechkin, 14 G leader Nick Foligno, 11
Nicklas Backstrom, 22 A leader Ryan Johansen, 17
Nicklas Backstrom, 27 Pts leader Ryan Johansen, 26
Tom Wilson, 55 PIM leader Jared Boll, 42
5-5-3 Home/Road 5-7-1
6-3-1 Last 10 4-5-1
12/09 @ Tampa Bay, W 5-3 Last Game 12/09 vs. Philadelphia, W 3-2 (SO)