WASHINGTON — Capitals forward Justin Williams took in the question for a brief moment and looked at the reporter as if he was out of his mind.
The Capitals had just drubbed the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-0 on Thursday night at Verizon Center, putting a screeching halt to a 16-game win streak that ranked second-best in NHL history. Did Washington try to downplay what the Blue Jackets were trying to accomplish? One more win would tie the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins for most consecutive wins in league history.
“No, I wanted to stop the streak,” a flabbergasted Williams said. “Who wouldn’t want to stop a streak? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it, for sure. And we did. Pretty good game.”
It’s been a remarkable run for Columbus, which has spent so much of its history as an afterthought, a doormat. Not this year. The Blue Jackets (27-6-4, 58 points), with stellar goaltending, a young, mobile defense and a strong group of forwards have been the best team in the league.
But the Caps (24-9-5, 53 points) have been pretty good themselves. Despite producing the fifth-most points in the NHL this season through 38 games, Washington has been trailing the division race almost all year. Columbus, Pittsburgh (25-8-5, 55 points) and the New York Rangers (27-13-1, 55 points) – all Metropolitan Division rivals – have been ever better. And for a time the Philadelphia Flyers had a 10-game win streak that left the Caps in fifth place in their own division.
That’s completely fine with them, too. Washington spent all of last season with a target on its back after winning 35 of its first 46 games and finishing with 121 points and the Presidents’ Trophy. Other teams can soak up the regular-season attention. The Caps are focused on the spring when they will be judged anyway.
“We kind of expected that coming into this year,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “There wasn’t much more in the regular season that we haven’t accomplished – except for building a better team in the playoffs. And that’s on us. So we’re not focused on the outside world. It’s just us trying to find that formula.”
Washington is now just two points behind the Rangers with three games in hand and will see the Penguins again next Wednesday at Verizon Center.
Holtby stopped all 29 shots he faced and earned his fourth shutout of the season. Defensemen John Carlson and Nate Schmidt scored for the Caps and Williams added another. Daniel Winnik opened the scoring 5:06 into the game and Andre Burakovsky had a goal, too, after guaranteeing Washington would snap the streak earlier in the day.
The Caps also killed five Columbus power plays, including 1:06 of a 5-on-3. The Blue Jackets entered the day with the NHL’s best power play. All in all, it was a good day for a team content to let others soak up the attention and the rising pressure that comes with it. All that Presidents’ Trophy did for Washington last year was a second-round exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs and more postseason heartbreak.
“I don’t really care,” Williams said. “Maybe we are laying in the weeds a little bit, no one’s really talking about us and that’s kind of a nice thing. We’re just going about our business. Keep improving.”