Capitals Win Before All-Star Break

Washington Capitals defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk (center) celebrates with Evgeny Kuznetsov, TJ Oshie, and Marcus Johansson after scoring a goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 31, 2023. Source: Washington Capitals via Twitter

The Washington Capitals had plenty of potential storylines in play Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. In a closer-than-expected game, the Capitals won 4-3 in overtime.

The two teams have lost the most man-games to injury in the Eastern Conference and fall on opposite ends of the age spectrum. The Capitals’ roster has the highest average age in the NHL, while Columbus is the youngest team on average. The Blue Jackets had scored the fewest goals but allowed the most goals against in the Eastern Conference prior to their meeting with Washington.

Instead of running away with the game thanks to the experience and offensive prowess, the Capitals lost two separate two-goal advantages. They only held the first edge for 12 seconds.

Garnet Hathaway scored first, just past the five-minute mark of the game. He laid a hard hit behind the Columbus net to force Jack Roslovic to get rid of the puck. Nick Jensen pinched to claim it and pass it to Lars Eller, who immediately swiveled around and shot the puck. Hathaway tipped it past Joonas Korpisalo for his eighth goal of the year.

Ten minutes later, Nicolas Aubé-Kubel drove through center ice against three Blue Jackets skaters. He held onto the puck on the right wing until defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk crossed the blue line. He passed it to space, and van Riemsdyk’s shot made it to the back of the net.

Columbus scored on the next shift. Patrik Laine prevented Washington from starting a defensive zone breakout. He passed it to Andrew Peeke, who shot from the blue line as the Capitals were still trying to react to Laine’s takeaway. The puck brushed van Riemsdyk’s pants and passed Charlie Lindgren’s right-catching glove.

With 11:34 left in the second period, Evgeny Kuznetsov ran a one-man cycle that included a fake drop pass on his way to the trapezoid. Kuznetsov then passed to the front of the net, where van Riemsdyk was ready for a tap-in. The goal set two new personal milestones for van Riemsdyk: his first two-goal game in the NHL and his most goals scored in a season.

Two and a half minutes later, TJ Oshie attempted a backhand centering pass from the right wing. He accidentally gave the puck right to Columbus’ Mathieu Olivier, who took off down the ice. Eric Robinson jumped up to support and pushed past Oshie’s backcheck. Olivier waited until van Riemsdyk went onto one knee to block a potential shot before passing to Robinson, who had the blade of his stick in position to tap the puck into the net.

With seven and a half minutes remaining to play, Washington had the lead and controlled the puck in the offensive zone. However, Columbus managed to make a line change that tied the game. Johnny Gaudreau received an aerial pass from Gavin Bayreuther at the Washington blue line. He skated around Jensen, the only Washington player in position to defend, and fired a wrist shot to the top right corner of the net.

Columbus sent out Gaudreau, Boone Jenner, and Vladislav Gavrikov as its first three skaters for overtime. Washington selected Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, and Erik Gustafsson. Kuznetsov won the faceoff back to Gustafsson, who handed it off to Johansson. Johansson carried the puck to the high slot, with Gustafsson breaking toward the net and Kuznetsov trailing the play. He opted to leave a drop pass for Kuznetsov, who brought the puck to the top of the right circle and fired in stride to beat Korpisalo and end the game only 26 seconds into overtime.

The Capitals will not play again until February 11th, when they will visit the Boston Bruins, then immediately return to Capital One Arena and face the San Jose Sharks on the 12th. Washington will play nine games in February, six of which will be at home. The team will also end the month with a back-to-back set against the New York Rangers at home and then the Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo.

The Capitals have played the most games of any team in the NHL so far and have only 29 games remaining in the regular season. Twenty-one of those games are against Eastern Conference opponents; a dozen are divisional matchups. As of the current standings, the Capitals will face higher-ranking teams ten times in the final two-and-a-half months of play. All of those teams are part of the Eastern Conference.

The 10-day break will give the Capitals time to rest their bodies. This will be especially helpful to the injured players who have suited up this season.

Captain Alex Ovechkin was briefly listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury a week and a half ago. He did not play in Vegas on the 21st and was a game-time decision in Colorado. He told reporters postgame that he wasn’t feeling 100% in the 3-2 loss. Ovechkin is the Capitals’ representative for the All-Star Game.

Right winger Tom Wilson, who returned from a long-term injury earlier in the month but took a new injury on the 24th in Colorado, will be evaluated when the Capitals return from the All-Star break. Defenseman John Carlson, who was injured the day before Wilson, will not be evaluated until late February, according to reporting by Samantha Pell of the Washington Post.

The Capitals have a few very long-term injuries as well. Carl Hagelin, who has not played this season due to eye and hip injuries, has started to skate solo at the Capitals’ practice facility. There is still no timetable for his return. Connor Brown had hip surgery on November 1 and was projected to be out for six months at the minimum. The earliest he could come back would be in May, should the Capitals make it that far in the playoffs.

Stanley Cup Aspirations Cue’ the Duck Boats Pod

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