Blue Jackets take win streak to Washington
The Washington Capitals have played well in the early part of a road-heavy stretch. It's games on their own ice that have given them trouble.
After a perfect three-game trip, the Capitals play the first of two in a row at home Thursday night against a Columbus Blue Jackets team that's won four straight but has lost its last four visits to the nation's capital.
The Capitals (13-10-4) began a stretch of nine of 12 away from home by posting wins at Carolina, New Jersey and Tampa Bay. Washington beat the Lightning 5-3 on Tuesday night to improve to 5-1-1 in its last seven on the road.
However, the Capitals have lost three of their last four at home and are near the bottom of the NHL with an average of 2.85 goals allowed there. They've given up at least four goals in five of 13 at home - all losses.
"We're getting better," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "It hasn't shown every night this season, but we slowly are getting better. We've taken a few steps back at certain times but we'll keep charging forward ... and hopefully get wins along the way while we learn."
Alex Ovechkin entered Tuesday's game without a point in four straight, but he scored 40 seconds in and added an empty-netter. He also scored twice in the first meeting with Columbus, a 4-2 home win Nov. 11.
The Capitals have scored at least four goals in two straight games after doing so once in the previous 10. Against the Lightning, 10 players recorded a point.
"Our big guys showed up tonight and scored some goals for us, and I thought we got contributions right through the whole lineup," coach Barry Trotz said. "There wasn't any passengers."
Braden Holtby was in net for each game on the trip, stopping 95 of 100 shots. He made 24 saves last month against Columbus, which dropped to 0-2-2 in the last four matchups in Washington.
That was also the ninth straight loss for the Blue Jackets and part of a 2-13-2 stretch before their current win streak.
Columbus (10-15-2) allowed visiting Philadelphia to tie Tuesday's game with 55.3 seconds remaining, but defenseman Kevin Connauton's second career goal gave the Blue Jackets a 3-2 win in overtime.
"You can feel this team starting to get its spirit back," coach Todd Richards said. "There was a stretch there where that's what we had lost."
Boone Jenner scored in his career-best fourth straight game and Scott Hartnell also had a goal. Both came on the power play as the Blue Jackets improved to 3 for 8 over the last two games following a 3-for-23 stretch.
"When we were losing, we were just waiting for something to go bad," Hartnell said. "Now we're expecting to win."
Like Holtby, Sergei Bobrovsky has been in goal for each of Columbus' wins during the run. He's posted a 1.70 goals-against average after having a 3.76 GAA in losing his previous five starts.
Bobrovsky was injured and didn't play in the first meeting. He's won his last two against Washington behind a 1.51 GAA, while Holtby is 3-1-0 with a 2.74 GAA in four career starts against Columbus.