Forty days have passed since the Caps were shutout in Columbus by Calder front-runner Steve Mason. In the interim, Washington has gone 14-3-0 and "Mase" has taken the NHL by storm, posting a 1.66 goals against average, a .941 save percentage and three shutouts in fifteen starts (and those numbers don't include that shutout of the Caps).
But Mason has only an 8-7-0 record to show for that stretch of brilliance because the Jackets simply cannot score. At all. In Mason's seven losses, Columbus has been whitewashed four times and has put just five pucks total past opposing netminders. In five of those eight wins, the Jax scored just twice, and scored three times in two other victories.
Due to injuries to their top three scorers, the Jackets' leading scorer who will play tonight is R.J. Umberger, with a whopping 20 points (he's also the only double-digit goal-scorer C'bus will have in uniform). Columbus has the worst power play in the League, firing at a putrid 10.2%, and have given up half as many shorthanded goals (nine) as they've scored on the power play (18).
But they have Steve Mason and, perhaps more importantly, Ken Hitchcock's system.
Frankly, it's disappointing to see the injuries hit, because Captain Rick Nash truly believes that this could be the year they finally make the playoffs. And it may be yet. But Hitch's boys sit in a familiar spot in the standings - on the outside looking in - and if they don't start scoring some goals to support their young stud, they're going nowhere fast.
Besides the Mason shutout back in November, there are some other storylines for tonight's game worth mentioning: former Blue Jacket Sergei Fedorov will likely return to the lineup to face his former team for the first time; the last time Columbus played in Washington was Alex Ovechkin's NHL debut (283 games, 188 goals and 361 points later, I'd say things are going well); and it's Bruce Boudreau's 54th birthday (and as a treat he gets to coach against a guy who makes him look svelte... well, almost).
The Caps have never lost at home to the Blue Jackets (2-0-1), but an easy game on paper won't be an easy game on the ice if they look past this hard-working club and it's phenom in net.
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
Ed Frankovic has some interesting first-half grades for the Caps players and organization. I'll say this for him - he knows the right places to blow smoke.... If the NHL handed out awards at the midway point, AO would get Wes Goldstein's Hart.... Joel Broda is the CHL Player of the Week and has been traded to Calgary (of the WHL).... Today's Cap of the Day is a former Jacket and Cap center who, fortunately for the Caps, did not have a No Movement Clause.... On this date back in 1998, Dale Hunter had three helpers and reached the 1,000 point plateau, becoming the first - and still only - player in NHL history with 1,000 points and 3,000 PIMs in a career.... Speaking of Huntsy, he and Caps prospects John Carlson and Justin Taylor got a nice late Christmas present yesterday.... Finally, join me in welcoming Caps blog "The Old NHL" to the fray. Keep your head up, boys.