It’s possible that part of the reason the Washington Capitals are off to a somewhat slow start is that they’ve played the majority of their games against the seemingly more powerful Western Conference.
The Capitals begin a stretch in which they play nine of 10 against the East on Tuesday night when they meet the Columbus Blue Jackets, losers of four straight on the road.
Washington (9-8-1) fell 4-3 in a shootout at Phoenix on Saturday and 4-1 at Colorado the next night. The Capitals are 5-6-1 against the West.
“Obviously we would have liked a little better record (in matchups with West opponents) but we gotta get home and turn the page, same as always,” said coach Adam Oates, whose club has won four straight against East foes.
The coach wasn’t too unhappy with his team’s play Sunday although Washington’s league-leading power play (now at 26.7 percent) went 0 for 4. The Caps had a 56-second two-man advantage early in the third period.
“You don’t want to lose games, but it’s how we play, big picture,” Oates said.
The power play went 2 for 4 in a 4-1 victory over Columbus (6-10-0) on Oct. 19 that started the Capitals’ current four-game home win streak. That contest featured three assists from Martin Erat, who has 56 points against the Blue Jackets for his highest total against any opponent.
Erat, however, has just two assists since last month’s matchup with five straight pointless efforts.
Washington has gotten a team-high 20 points apiece from Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, who is averaging an NHL-best 5.9 shots and has four points in the Capitals’ four-game win streak over the Blue Jackets.
Columbus ended a five-game slide Saturday thanks to a new line combination of Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson. The unit had seven points in a 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders that precedes this two-game trip that finishes Thursday against Boston.
”If it were to have gone the other way tonight it would be tough going into Washington and Boston on the road,” said Johansen, who had a goal and two assists. ”Now we have some momentum.”
Dubinsky also had a goal and two assists after he questioned Columbus’ effort in a 4-1 loss to the Rangers on Thursday.
“That’s what leaders do, that’s what they have to do,” coach Todd Richards said. “You can talk, your words, it’s easy to talk, it’s easy to say things, it’s easy to even want things or even wish for things but it’s another thing to go out and do it.”
The Blue Jackets captured their first two road games before allowing six power-play goals in 16 chances while dropping the next four.
Columbus is still searching for offense from Marian Gaborik, who has one assist during a six-game goalless streak. He has gone seven straight regular-season games against Washington without scoring.
While Sergei Bobrovsky figures to start in goal for Columbus, the Capitals will choose between Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. Holtby has started 14 games, and each player started once over the weekend.