Even as the Washington Capitals were in the middle of their own game, they kept an eye on how the game was going in Columbus. When Washington got back to its locker room after the 6-5 overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, players wanted to know the result of the Blue Jackets’ game against Edmonton.
“As soon as our game was over last night, guys were checking to see if they won or night,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “We had it on. If anyone says they weren’t [paying attention], they’re lying because we had it on in the changing room. As soon as we asked if they’d won or not, guys were like, ‘Oh, I don’t know, it said 2-1 on the scoreboard during the game.’ So, guys were aware of it.”
With its win against Edmonton on Tuesday night, Columbus extended its winning streak to 16 games, meaning the Blue Jackets will be playing to tie the longest win streak in NHL history with 17 games when they come to Verizon Center on Thursday night. The Capitals’ motivation is to beat the Metropolitan Division leader and gain some ground on the standings “and it’d be cool to end their streak, I guess,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said.
“I think a lot of teams have wanted to break it along the way,” T.J. Oshie said. “So, we’re not going to be too focused about that. If the guys need that to motivate them, that’s fine. But I think right now, we’re getting our game going in a pretty positive direction, and we’re going to focus on that and hopefully that’ll be enough to break it.”
While the Capitals aren’t approaching the game much differently than any other one, there will be considerably more buzz around a Jan. 5 midweek game between Washington and Columbus than would’ve been expected before the season. The Capitals’ practice on Wednesday afternoon featured the largest media presence of the season so far.
“It’ll bring some attention,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “Obviously, everybody’s going to look who’s following the Jackets to see how far they can take this. You know, guys recognize that you’re under a bigger spotlight. It’s probably like a rivalry game. It’s got a little bit more zip to it, a little more emotion to it than some other games.”
The Blue Jackets haven’t just been winning, but have been doing so in impressive fashion. They have an NHL-best plus-52 goal differential, as they average the second-most goals per game (3.44) while also allowing the fewest (2.03). Columbus has the top-ranked power play (28.1 percent), and the only area where they’re not ranked at the top of the league is on the penalty kill, which is 16th.
The first two games between the teams were competitive, as Washington lost the first one in overtime at Nationwide Arena. When the Blue Jackets arrived at Verizon Center less than a week later, the game came down to a power-play goal in the last minute of the game, which lifted Columbus to a 3-2 win.
“I think our guys are up to the challenge,” Trotz said. “This is a team that’s leading the league. . . . I think guys look at it a good — they like the competition. It’ll be something good pros look and go, ‘They’re a good team. So are we. Let’s see what happens.’ ”