The Columbus Blue Jackets (16-10-2) and Washington Capitals (16-9-3) will meet at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night in a matchup between the two top teams in the Metropolitan Division. Puck drop is scheduled for shortly after 7:00 PM ET.
The CBJ have lost five games in the last month. They held a second period lead in three of those five, yet only registered one point in those contests. A second period lead is something the Jackets have had in each of their last three games, yet they lost two of them and nearly gave away the other one: Thursday’s win in Philadelphia.
Although many in the Blue Jackets dressing room felt fortunate to grab two points against the Flyers, they all recognize the need to play better with the lead, especially against a team like they’ll face tonight in the Washington Capitals. They may be able to salvage a game against a team that’s seventh place like Philadelphia, but they weren’t able to escape the firepower of the Calgary Flames, who not only hold first place in the Pacific Division, but also rank inside the top ten in goal scoring this season. The Caps check both those boxes too, sitting atop the Metro and coming into tonight matchup fifth in goals per game.
After winning seven games in a row in late November, the Capitals have cooled off so far in December, going 1-2 in their first three contests this month. When these two teams met last, the CBJ went to the nation’s capital and defeated the Caps 2-1 on November 9th. The Jackets took over first place on that day, and have been flirting with that spot ever since, while the Capitals have been surging towards the top since then.
Offensively for the Jackets, the performance of Cam Atkinson lately can’t be understated. He extended his 12-game point streak Thursday on the Seth Jones game winner in overtime, and after two hat tricks in the last three weeks, he’s up to 19 goals on the season and on track to surpass his career high of 35 set in 2016-17. Although Atkinson missed his team’s November matchup with Washington due to an illness, his scoring streak started the day after that victory in D.C.
For Washington, it’s the usual suspects offensively who are atop their scoring leaderboard. Alex Ovechkin is tied for the league lead in goals with 21 so far this season, with Nicklas Backstrom leading the team in assists with 24.
Tonight’s game will be the first of six in a row at Nationwide Arena for the Blue Jackets, something that should help keep the team on track. Home ice hasn’t necessarily been too friendly for the CBJ, however, who are 7-5-1 in Columbus compared to 9-5-1 on the road. Expect a rowdy atmosphere at Nationwide tonight in the Capitals first trip back since they eliminated the Jackets from the postseason a year ago.