The Washington Capitals will try to end a two-game slump when they host a rested, streaky and self-proclaimed desperate team in the Columbus Blue Jackets Nov. 12.
On paper, a second go-round with the Blue Jackets is just what the weary Capitals (9-8-1) need after road losses to Phoenix and Colorado. Washington beat Columbus, 4-1, Oct. 19, paced by two power-play goals and goaltender Braden Holtby's 37 saves.
But the Blue Jackets (6-10) will be looking for a fast start. Columbus lost five consecutive games before beating the New York Islanders, 5-2, Nov. 9. After the game, head coach Todd Richards told reporters that Columbus would have to have a good first period against Washington.
Meanwhile, the Caps are still smarting from their weekend losses, particularly the 4-3 shootout loss to Phoenix Nov. 9. Washington led, 3-1, late during the third period before Lauri Korpikoski's shot off a rebound went through Michal Neuvirth's pads.
The Coyotes tied it with 1:46 left during regulation, when Shane Doan scored on a power play, with 6-foot-6 Martin Hanzal parked in front of Neuvirth. Nate Schmidt had been whistled for delay of game when his clearing attempt went over the glass.
Despite blowing the lead, the Caps still had a chance to win in overtime because Phoenix was called for delay of game at the end of regulation. But the NHL's best power play unit couldn't convert, and the Coyotes took the shootout. Earlier, Troy Brouwer and John Carlson scored on power plays during a three-goal second period.
Both of Doan's goals came on power plays. Washington's penalty kill was the best in the NHL entering the game, but seemed taxed late during the third. After the weekend games, its kill rate of 88.7 percent was still good for second best in the league.
Head coach Adam Oates said he was disappointed the team had taken only one point, and reiterated that his squad had committed too many penalties. Washington has been shorthanded 71 times, highest among teams that have played 18 games.
"Too many penalties just in general," Oates told reporters after the game in Arizona. "You know it's going to bite you at some point, and it did. We can't rely on our special teams. They've got to be good, but that's not how you win games."
The Capitals went 0-for-4 on power plays during a 4-1 loss to Colorado Nov. 10. That included a 5-on-3 during the third period. Joel Ward tied the game, 1-1, late during the second period, but Washington gave it back 28 seconds later, when Nick Holden beat Holtby glove side.
"That hurts," Oates said.
Oates said his team needed to turn the page and prepare for Columbus.
Both teams are slow starters. Washington has 10 first-period goals, compared with 11 for Columbus. The Capitals thrive during the second, though, with 30 goals, while the Blue Jackets have managed 10.
During the 12 games before the victory against the Islanders, Columbus had lost four in a row, then won three straight, then lost the next five. The lowlight of the five-game losing streak came Nov. 7 when Mark Letestu scored on his own net, backhanding the puck past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
Veteran winger Brandon Dubinsky later called out his teammates for lack of effort. Dubinsky's line with center Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson amassed three goals against the Islanders.
"This was a huge game," Richards told reporters in his postgame comments. "Now we've got to go to Washington, then to Boston, come home and play against Montreal. That's some good teams. It's going to be a tough stretch. This was a huge game for us."
Johansen and Marian Gaborik lead Columbus with five goals each.
During the Oct. 19 meeting, the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin and Ward scored power play goals. Brouwer and Brooks Laich also scored. Martin Erat had three assists. When the Blue Jackets were down, 4-0, Dubinsky tried to wake his teammates up by dropping the gloves with Caps defenseman Steve Oleksy. Artem Anisimov spoiled the shutout with 4:55 remaining.