Although the Capitals were in engaged in a thrilling, back-and-forth battle of their own Tuesday night against the Maple Leafs, many of them had more than a passing interest in a game taking place in Columbus.
Why? Because the Blue Jackets’ 3-1 victory over the Oilers extended their win streak to 16 games—one short of tying the 1992-93 Penguins’ NHL record of 17 consecutive wins.
So when the Caps host the Jackets on Thursday night at Verizon Center, the game will mean much more two Metropolitan Division rivals crossing paths on a weekday night in January.
And Brooks Orpik can’t wait.
“As soon as our game was over last night, guys were checking to see if they won or not,” Orpik said after practice on Wednesday.
“We had it on. If anyone says they weren’t [paying attention] they’re lying because we had it on in the change room.”
“As soon as we asked if they won or not, guys were like, ‘I don’t know, it said 2- 1 on the scoreboard during our game’,” the veteran defenseman continued. “So guys were aware of it. It’s something fun to watch. Everybody was paying attention to [Columbus’] game against Minnesota the other night to see who would win that one. It’s a little extra challenge.”
Indeed, the Blue Jackets present challenges all over the ice. They’re a league best 27-5-4. Their power play is ranked No. 1 at 28.3-percent. They’re allowing fewer goals than anyone else (2.03 per game) and are scoring more goals (3.44 per) than anyone other than Sidney Crosby and the Penguins (3.45).
Coach Barry Trotz said he considers Thursday’s game to be a good measuring stick for his team, especially given the way the last two meetings between the clubs ended.
On Nov. 15 in Columbus, the Jackets rallied for a 2-1 win in overtime. Then, five days later, Nicklas Backstrom was whistled for high sticking Jackets captain Nick Foligno, who threw his head back despite the fact that Backstrom’s stick did not contact his face. Columbus scored on the ensuing power play with 54 seconds remaining to steal two points.
“I think our guys are up to the challenge,” said Trotz, whose team has won three in a row and is 10-2-3 in their last 15 games.
“This is a team that’s leading the league. They’re a team that I think both games were very competitive that we played. …I think guys look at it as they like the competition and I think it will be something that good pros look and go, ‘They’re a good team, so are we and let’s see what happens.’”
Said Daniel Winnik: “We lost in OT against them and then the very phantom high stick call that they scored with a minute something left on the power play. It’s going to be a good test for us.”
Lars Eller said the chance to end the streak will add some juice to the game. But the veteran center also feels the November losses should provide the primary motivation.
“I think it should be a good motivational factor for us,” he said. “But even more so, the biggest motivation for us is the last two games. We felt like we let points slip through our hands too easily when we should have closed the game. That’s probably the biggest thing.”
Orpik added: “We had two pretty good games against them earlier in the year that I think we felt like we were in good position to win and we kinda let it slip away against them. So hopefully tomorrow night will be similar to those two. …It’s always a good measuring stick, especially a team that’s going this well right now.”
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