Capitals vist Blue Jackets with division lead at stake

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Washington Capitals visit Nationwide Arena for the first time since they eliminated the Columbus Blue Jackets from the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs last season and the atmosphere most likely will be intense Saturday night.

The two teams have picked up where they left off last season at the top of the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals (16-9-3) enter the second matchup of the season between the teams with one more point.

When the teams met last month in Washington, the Blue Jackets (16-10-2) came away with a 2-1 victory. Another win in regulation would push Columbus to the top of the division ahead of Washington.

“Two teams fighting for first place in the division and two teams that play a pretty similar style of aggressive and skilled hockey,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno told reporters on Friday. “So it should be fun.”

The Blue Jackets open a six-game homestand hoping to get a streak going on home ice, where they’re just 7-5-1 this season. Their last home game resulted in a 9-6 loss to the Calgary Flames in a game that they were leading by three goals at one point.

“We seem to be letting games slip away at home and its unacceptable,” Foligno said.

But the Blue Jackets bounced back on Thursday night with a 4-3 overtime victory on the road over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Columbus let a two-goal lead evaporate in the third period against Philadelphia, but defenseman Seth Jones quickly decided the outcome in overtime, scoring 10 seconds after the faceoff on an assist from teammate Cam Atkinson, who kept his 12-game point streak alive.

Atkinson can tie a franchise record held by Ryan Johansen (Dec. 18, 2014-Jan. 17, 2015) with a point in a 13th consecutive games. In the last 12 games, Atkinson has 13 goals and seven assists.

The Blue Jackets hope coach John Tortorella is on the bench for the game. He wore a hoodie on Thursday night in Philadelphia while experiencing chills from the flu and did not attend Friday’s practice.

“He was so cold he was shaking,” Blue Jackets assistant coach Brad Larsen said, according to the team’s website. “It was like full-body tremors.”

The Capitals experienced a similar situation to the Blue Jackets’ blown lead against the Flames when they gave up a four-goal advantage in a 6-5 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.

Two days later, the Capitals lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in a Stanley Cup Final rematch but ended their brief two-game skid with a 4-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night, their first regular-season win in Phoenix since 2006.

The Capitals played without wingers T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson at the same time for the first time this season. Oshie has missed 10 games with an upper body injury and Wilson sustained a concussion on Tuesday night in the game against the Golden Knights.

Andre Burakovsky stepped up and scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period for the Capitals.

“I think I’ve been playing good,” Burakovsky said, according to The Washington Post. “I’m doing all of the right things, if you really watch the game closely. I’m not drifting away from the game as much as I did maybe two years ago.

“Even if I haven’t produced as many points as people expect or I expect from myself, I still think my game has been way better overall than in the past couple of years, so obviously that’s a good sign.”

Washington captain Alexander Ovechkin extended his scoring streak to 10 games on an empty-net goal with 2.3 seconds remaining against the Coyotes. Ovechkin nine goals and five assists during the streak, and he’s tied for the NHL lead in goals with 21.

“It was good for us to have a really solid third period,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “That cost us the last couple of games and something we addressed and spread out some of the ice time so we could be a little stronger as the third period went on. I thought it was beneficial for us.”

Nicklas Backstrom has 34 points in 28 games and John Carlsson ranks third among NHL defensemen with 29 points.