NHL Hockey

Capitals open six-game trip in Columbus

The Columbus Blue Jackets and the Washington Capitals are playing better hockey of late, and both hope to continue that trend when they meet in Ohio's capital on Tuesday night.

Columbus and Washington are battling to stay with the surprising Islanders in the Metropolitan Division. New York took over first place as both the Blue Jackets and Capitals struggled recently before turning things around. The Islanders lead Washington by three points and both Columbus and the Pittsburgh Penguins by five heading into the Tuesday action.

Evgeny Kuznetsov is a big reason why the Capitals' offense has awakened during a 4-1-1 homestand that ended with a 6-4 victory over the Kings on Monday. He posted two goals and two assists against Los Angeles.

The Russian center has five goals and five assists in his last four games, looking much more like the player he was during the 2017-18 regular season and playoffs.

"He's a great player," teammate Jakub Vrana told the media after the Monday game. "He came to play today. The last few games, he's been unbelievable."

The final goal he scored, which gave Washington a 6-4 lead late in the third period, was pure Kuznetsov. He got a quick pass from Alex Ovechkin, waited, then slid back a bit away from the goal before firing a shot just inside the far post past goalie Jonathan Quick.

The Capitals did better with penalties after the first period. They were whistled for three minors in the first 20 minutes, none the rest of the way. Washington remains among the NHL leaders in penalty minutes, something coach Todd Reirden and the front office want to fix.

The game at Columbus kicks off Washington's longest road trip of the season, a six-game journey that will take the Capitals from California back to the Eastern time zone.

The Blue Jackets have won three in a row, getting a lift from an improved power play.

Columbus has scored 10 extra-man goals in the past 12 games, which has really helped the offense overall. Last month, the team hired Martin St. Louis, who played under current Columbus coach John Tortorella in Tampa Bay when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2003-04, as a special teams consultant.

St. Louis worked with the team for a few days, and the Blue Jackets began to fare better in the extra-man situations.

"I think bringing in a guy like Martin St. Louis and having him and (assistant coach Brad Larsen) kind of collaborating together, we have a new language, so to speak," Blue Jackets winger Cam Atkinson told the team's website after Columbus' 4-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday. "We're playing with confidence ... and it's showing."

Columbus made two minor moves on Monday. The team recalled left winger Eric Robinson from Cleveland and assigned center Mark Letestu to the American Hockey League club.

In addition, the Blue Jackets traded minor league defenseman Blake Siebenaler to Pittsburgh in exchange for a conditional pick in this year's NHL draft.

The Tuesday contest is a rematch of last year's first-round Eastern Conference playoff matchup in which the Capitals defeated the Blue Jackets in six games. This season, Washington is 1-1-1 vs. Columbus heading into the final meeting.

--Field Level Media

Updated February 12, 2019

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