The Washington Capitals really need to start putting a winning streak together if they want to make the playoffs, and it would be nice if it started tonight at Verizon Center. There are just two problems with that: one is that the Boston Bruins are coming to town, one of the best teams in the East.
The second problem is related to the first, and that’s the fact that last time the Bruins saw the Capitals, they were watching Joel Ward celebrate a Game 7 overtime game-winner that knocked them out of the 2012 Stanley Cup hunt. Suffice it to say, they’d probably like some payback for that.
But even though the B’s have been awfully good in 2013, they’re not invincible. Montreal proved that on Sunday, beating them in Boston and taking over the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins have been superb away from home, losing just once in regulation in 10 away games.
Both the offensive and defensive leaders for Boston are different from that playoff series. Tuukka Rask has ensured nothing was lost between the pipes when Tim Thomas departed, putting up stellar numbers across the board (1.97 GAA, .928 save percentage and 11 wins in 15 games). Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin are starting to get into a groove, but it’s been the third member of their line, Brad Marchand, who has done the most damage to opponents. Marchand leads the team with 11 goals, including four game-winners.
Washington coach Adam Oates has already announced that he’ll be starting Braden Holtby in net. It’ll be the tenth straight start for Holtby, who entered in relief of Michal Neuvirth on February 7 and has played nearly every minute since then. He’s alternated form over the last three games, sandwiching an appearance where he was pulled after allowing four goals on 18 shots between a pair of shutouts.
The Caps appear to still be without Mike Green, but the blueliners received some help in the form of newly signed Steve Oleksy, who should add some more toughness and grit if he’s in the lineup. Up front, expect to see Matt Hendricks play for the second straight game alongside Mike Ribeiro and Alex Ovechkin, as that combination worked well last time out.
Should the game turn chippy, the special teams battle figures to be an interesting case of strength versus strength and weakness against weakness. Washington has the third-ranked power play at 26.1 percent, while the Boston penalty killers are the best in the NHL at 91.1 percent. On the flip side, the Bruins only rank 22nd with the man advantage, and the Caps are a dismal 27th on the PK.
With four of their next five at home, this is the perfect time for the Capitals to make a bit of a push in the Southeast. It just figures to be a challenging start to a critical juncture of the season.
Boston Bruins vs. Washington Capitals
Start time: 7 pm EST
TV: Comcast SportsNet DC (Capitals), NESN (Bruins)