Power play and Bobrovsky shine as Blue Jackets beat Capitals
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Columbus Blue Jackets are finally starting to feel confident on the power play, and that could be dangerous for the rest of the NHL.
Columbus’ league-worst power play scored twice and Sergei Bobrovsky made 33 saves in a 2-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals on Friday night.
Oliver Bjorkstrand scored in his return to the lineup and Anthony Duclair had his seventh goal of the season for the Blue Jackets, who have three power-play goals during their two-game winning streak.
“We’re working as a five-man unit,” said Duclair, who scored from a sharp angle to tie Artemi Panarin for the team lead with seven goals. “We know the type of skill of talent we have on both units, and if we just put the work into it, I think they’re going to start going in.”
The Blue Jackets entered the night 7 of 59 on the power play, an 11.9 percent conversion rate that was last among the league’s 31 teams. After his penalty kill went 4 for 5 against Washington, coach John Tortorella pointed out Columbus has kept its head above water with shaky special teams and could finally develop some consistency if those units round into form.
Bobrovsky is certainly there. The 2013 and 2017 Vezina Trophy winner was far more dialed in Friday than during the first round last spring against the Capitals when Columbus blew a 2-0 series lead.
The Russian goaltender who can be a free agent after the season was at his best early in making 15 first-period saves and then late on two third-period penalty kills that helped the Blue Jackets win in regulation and take over sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division.
“I felt pretty good again,” said Bobrovsky, who faced 34 shots and never looked out of a play. “I know that the Washington is a really good team, and if you relax too, too much they’re going to score a goal right away. So, you have to respect them and compete against them. It’s so much fun to beat them.”
Captain Nick Foligno thought the Blue Jackets respected the Capitals too much, sitting back and leaning on Bobrovsky to win them the game. He allowed only a power-play goal to Matt Niskanen, who was wide open when he blasted home a shot from the point.
Washington’s Braden Holtby, who won the Vezina Trophy in 2016, was on top of his game in stopping 34 of the 36 shots he faced. The Capitals’ two-game winning streak came to an end, but they haven’t allowed an even-strength goal in their past three.
“Right now, we just can’t seem to kill a penalty,” Niskanen said. “In a tight game, that hurts.”
Bjorkstrand rewarded Tortorella for putting him on the top line and the power play in place of right wing Cam Atkinson, who missed the game with an illness. Niskanen scored his goal from the point on Washington’s top power-play unit in place of defenseman John Carlson, who’s listed as day-to-day with lower-body injury.
NOTES: Referee Brad Meier left in the first period after losing an edge and appearing to twist his right knee. Meier needed help getting off the ice, and the NHL said he had a lower-body injury. The game finished with three officials. ... Capitals D Jonas Siegenthaler made his NHL debut, taking Carlson’s spot in the lineup. ... Washington placed D Brooks Orpik on long-term injured reserve. He’ll miss at least the next five games. ... Linda Laughlin, who is battling serous uterine cancer, dropped a puck along with husband and former Capitals forward Craig Laughlin during a ceremonial faceoff on Hockey Fights Cancer night.
Blue Jackets: Return home to face the New York Rangers on Saturday night to complete the back-to-back.
Capitals: Host the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday to wrap up a five-game homestand.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno