Two teams in need of some down time will meet Tuesday night when the Washington Capitals visit the Columbus Blue Jackets.
It is the final game before the All-Star break for both teams and their last game in January, a month each club will be happy to put behind them.
Washington blazed through December but is 5-7-1 in January and has not won two straight since a five-game run from Dec. 17-27. On Sunday, the Capitals surrendered four second-period goals in a 5-1 loss at Toronto, which followed an impressive overtime win against the Penguins.
“Obviously the standings are getting tight this time of year and you want to keep climbing as much as you can,” forward Conor Sheary said. “But losing after a (win) is something we have to avoid and start stringing together some wins.”
Nicklas Backstrom scored his first goal of the season for Washington, which is 1-3 over its past four games. Darcy Kuemper allowed four goals on 20 shots before being pulled. Charlie Lindgren made six saves in relief and could get the start in the first-half finale.
The Capitals hold the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference but there are four teams close behind after Washington wasn’t able to build on a 1-0 lead against the Maple Leafs.
“It doesn’t feel good, that’s for sure. We played a good game against Pittsburgh, 60 minutes, and obviously, we didn’t tonight,” Backstrom said. “At the end of the day, we have to regroup here going to Columbus for the next one and finish off strong before the (All-Star) break.”
Washington will be without forward Tom Wilson, who remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
The Blue Jackets are not among the teams chasing Washington for a wild-card spot. Columbus has lost three of four and is 4-10-1 in January, a stretch that has left them with the fewest points in the NHL.
Columbus finished a 1-2-1 road trip with a 3-1 loss to the Seattle Kraken on Saturday. Kent Johnson scored and Elvis Merzlikins made 28 saves for the Blue Jackets.
The Blue Jackets fell behind 2-0 and got to within 2-1 late in the second period but couldn’t get the equalizer.
“We’re all playing 82 games, we’re all in the middle of the season and we all go through those stretches where we’re playing a lot of hockey on the road,” forward Johnny Gaudreau said. “So, we’ve got to come prepared a little bit better.”
Rookie Kirill Marchenko saw his three-game goal streak snapped against Seattle, but his play continues to impress coach Brad Larsen.
“I like his passion, his enthusiasm. I love that he’s finding different ways to score … power play, 5-on-5 and in different ways even within those power-play goals,” Larsen said. “So, at the end of the day, he’s been a real positive and bright spot for goal-scoring, which hasn’t come easy for us.”
The Blue Jackets were without defenseman Adam Boqvist against Seattle after he left with an upper-body injury Friday versus Vancouver. He is day-to-day.
The Capitals have won the first two meetings between the teams — 6-2 in Columbus on Jan. 5, and 1-0 in Washington three days later behind 38 saves from Kuemper.
–Field Level Media