A pair of struggling Metropolitan Division powers look to put their recent woes behind them as the Washington Capitals visit the Columbus Blue Jackets in one of the more significant matchups on Tuesday’s National Hockey League slate.
Though the Capitals currently lead the Metro, their hold on first place is tenuous at best after losing 5 of their last 7 games. The New Jersey Devils are 3 points behind the Caps and hold a game in hand, while the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins have moved within 4 points of Washington for the top spot in the division. Columbus, meanwhile, enters Tuesday’s action in 4th place in the Metropolitan but is also just 3 points out of the basement in the most competitive division in the NHL this season.
It all makes for an important clash Tuesday in Columbus, and we should expect each team to bring their best tonight. BetOnline oddsmakers have priced this game as a pretty even matchup, making the Jackets slight home favorites.
The nice thing about evenly-priced matchups like this is that you can essentially double your money by taking either side. Even the Over and Under pay pretty similar odds, so we won’t have to risk much for a decent return if we can just find a few edges in this game. Let’s take a look at both sides to see if we can find some.
Backstopped by star netminder Braden Holtby, defense has been the calling card of the Capitals for the last few seasons. In the team’s first 3 years under head coach Barry Trotz, Washington was sixth-best in goals against in 2014-15, second 2 years ago and first last season.
This year has been a much different story. Washington comes into tonight’s game ranked just 19th in the NHL in goals against and 20th in shots allowed, and Holtby has yet to post a shutout in any of his first 38 starts.
Why does this matter? Because in the past, whenever Washington was going through a slump, all the Caps had to do to break out of it was tighten things up in their own end. But after Washington saw a pair of leads slip away in Sunday’s 4-3 loss at home to the Vegas Golden Knights, it’s time to wonder if the Capitals are capable of locking things down anymore. They’ve now surrendered at least 3 goals in 7 of their last 9 games, and they’ve given up an alarmingly-high average of 3.54 goals per game on the road this season.
Without a proven ability to dominate defensively, the Caps should focus on generating more offense tonight instead as they look to break out of this funk. Fortunately, goal-scoring hasn’t been an issue for Washington, which is averaging 3.1 goals per game on the year. And while Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is notoriously known for being a tough nut to crack, he’s been mediocre this season, allowing 15 goals in his last 5 games and posting a 2.46 goals-against average on the campaign.
The Blue Jackets opened the year with a 17-8-1 record out of the gate and looked like they were simply picking up where they left off from last year’s breakthrough season. Since then, however, they’re just 10-13-3 over their last 27 games, and 4 of those 10 wins came in overtime or a shootout.
Columbus’ biggest issue this year is the direct opposite of Washington: the Blue Jackets simply can’t score enough goals. They haven’t scored more than 3 in a game since December 29, and that outburst came against one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL this year, the Ottawa Senators. Since a 6-4 win over the Islanders (another horrible defensive team) on December 14, the Jackets have managed more than 2 goals in a game just 5 times if you don’t count overtime or shootout markers.
Even when the Blue Jackets bring their best, like they did in a 49-shot effort against the Islanders on Saturday night, they’re not being rewarded. Columbus outshot the Isles 26-12 in the opening period, yet found itself in a 1-1 tie through 20 minutes. When teams get in offensive slumps like this, it becomes more about confidence than it is about generating shot opportunities, and the Jackets are clearly squeezing their sticks out of frustration lately.
Both of these teams are desperate, both teams are looking to generate as much offense as possible, and both teams aren’t playing as well in their own end as they’d like.
But while the Capitals at least have some confidence on the offensive end of the ice right now, the Blue Jackets are a frustrated bunch that feels like it can’t buy a goal these days. Home ice is not friendly to a team that is struggling to score either, as the fans are as frustrated as the players and can start to turn on the home side.
Washington has won 6 of the last 8 meetings between these teams and is playing some decent hockey on the road lately as well, going 3-1-1 in its last 5 away from home. Give me the Capitals at +106 on the moneyline to continue the Blue Jackets’ woes.
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