Whether it happens in the next game or next week, the Presidents’ Trophy is going to take care of itself for Washington.
What the Capitals might be growing more concerned with heading into Monday night’s home meeting with Columbus is ensuring they enter the postseason playing better 5-on-5 hockey than they have in the last two games.
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After Saturday’s 4-0 home loss to St. Louis and Friday’s 1-0 overtime win in New Jersey, Washington (53-16-5) doesn’t have a traditional 5-on-5 goal in its last eight periods. The goal against the Devils came in the 3-on-3 format, while the Capitals’ third-period tally in Tuesday’s 4-2 win in Ottawa was an empty-netter.
Granted, the latest game came against a club that’s posted four straight shutouts, but that wasn’t what the Capitals were pointing to after the loss.
"I just saw them battling for more inches than we did," Justin WiIliams told the team’s official website. "The game is about that, the game is about little plays. The game is about earning your ice out there. They kept us to the outside, and when we had a chance to get to the inside, their goalie made a save. They were just better in the little spots and in the trenches tonight."
As for the defensive zone, coach Barry Trotz said letdowns came because the Capitals were pressing at the other end. But over a 4-3-1 span, Washington has given up at least four goals four times and lost them all.
"We tried to press to break the goose egg and they countered and ended up scoring," said Trotz, whose Caps can clinch their first Presidents’ Trophy since 2009-10 with a win or overtime loss. "I thought (goalie) Jake Allen for them was really good tonight. But it should’ve been a little closer than it was, probably."
Point production at the top has been lacking with team points leader Evgeny Kuznetsov in a season-worst four-game drought, while top goal scorer Alex Ovechkin has one point in his last five and Nicklas Backstrom two in his last six.
The team has had no such scoring issues in the series with the Blue Jackets, going 10-3-3 with 3.56 goals per game dating to Washington’s last Presidents’ Trophy season. That includes a 2-0-1 record this season after a 6-3 win in Columbus on Jan. 19 behind four assists from Kuznetsov, two Backstrom goals and an Ovechkin goal and assist.
Kuznetsov has six points in the last two meetings, and Backstrom has seven points on a five-game streak against the Blue Jackets.
Columbus (30-37-8) has also had some scoring struggles recently, managing six goals over a 1-3-0 span after Saturday’s 5-1 loss in Nashville started a four-game trip. The Blue Jackets have matched a season-high five-game road skid while scoring four times and never more than once.
"Totally overwhelmed, totally overwhelmed," said coach John Tortorella, whose team lost by at least four goals for the third time over a 3-7-0 span. "That’s all you need to know. I am not going to answer or dissect or talk about the game. It won’t do anybody any good for me to go any further than we were overwhelmed from the start of the game to the end."
It might not come any easier with Washington’s Braden Holtby likely back in goal after Philipp Grubauer faced St. Louis. Holtby is coming off the shutout of the Devils and has posted a 1.85 goals-against average and .928 save percentage over a 4-1-0 span.
Sergei Bobrovsky, on the other hand, hasn’t held a team under two goals in his last eight games, going 2-5-0 with a 3.34 GAA and .885 save percentage.