Boston @ Washington Preview: Capitals And Bruins Set To Determine Third Place In East In Round-Robin Finale


The Washington Capitals (0-1-1) and Boston Bruins (0-2-0) finish off the Eastern Conference round-robin tournament on Sunday to determine who gets the third seed in the Eastern Conference. The loser will face the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs while the winner will take on the New York Islanders. The tournament is set to begin on Tuesday. The Capitals are 16-2-0 against the Bruins since 2014-15 and went 2-1-0 against them this season. Action from Scotiabank Arena in Toronto can be seen on NBCSN nationally or NBC Sports Washington in the DMV area, starting at noon E.T

Bruins

After leading the St. Louis Blues by six points with a game in hand when the NHL season paused due to COVID-19, the Bruins are in danger of falling to fourth in the Eastern Conference with a regulation loss on Sunday. After getting run over by the Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 4-1 in their first round-robin game, the Bruins dropped their second to the Tampa Bay Lightning after giving up the game-winning goal with 1:27 left in the third period. Including the team’s exhibition game against the Columbus Blue Jackets before the round-robin tournament began, the Bruins have been outscored by a total of 11-4 during phase four of the NHL’s return-to-play plan.

Forward David Pastrnak’s 48 goals in 70 games this season were tied with Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin (though Ovechkin played 68 during 2019-20) while his 95 points were tied with New York Rangers forward and Hart Trophy candidate Artemi Panarin for third in the NHL this season. The 24-year-old was held off of the scoresheet in the Bruins’ first two round-robin games. Forward Brad Marchand’s 59 assists were fifth in the NHL and led the Bruins while his 87 points ranked sixth in the NHL and second on the team. The two are a combined -6 and have posted no points in the Bruins’ first two round-robin games.

The Bruins’ average of 2.39 goals-against per game led the NHL this season while their average of 3.24 goals-per-game ranked fourth. Their 25.2% power-play efficiency trailed only the Edmonton Oilers (29.5%) while their 84.3% penalty-killing rate was behind only the San Jose Sharks (85.7%) and Oilers (84.4%), who both failed to qualify for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Bruins’ average of 32.1 shots-per-game was 10th while their average of 30 shots-against per game was eighth. Their 51% faceoff-winning percentage ranked seventh.

The Bruins acquired forward Ondrej Kase, who recorded one assist, an even rating, a 48.23% Corsi-for percentage, and a 51.64% expected goals-for rate in six regular-season games after the trade, from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for forward David Backes, defenseman Axel Andersson, and 2020 first-round pick just before the NHL Trade Deadline. They also added forward Nick Ritchie, who posted one goal, two points, a -2 rating, a 46.41% Corsi-for percentage, and a 46.27% expected goals-for rate in seven games after the trade, from the Ducks in exchange for forward Danton Heinen.

It appears that Vezina Trophy nominee Tuukka Rask, who went 26-8-6 with a .929 save percentage (fourth in NHL), a 2.12 goals-against average (second), and five shutouts (tied for second), is expected to get the start for the Bruins on Sunday. The 33-year-old is 3-11-5 with a .892 save percentage, 3.10 goals-against average, and two shutouts in 20 career games against the Capitals, though he has stopped 63 of 66 shots (.945 save percentage) in his previous two starts against them, both wins.

Capitals

The Capitals look to bounce back after a lifeless performance in a 3-1 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers in their second round-robin game. They cannot finish higher than third in the Eastern Conference after losing their first two games. Though, the Capitals entered the tournament in third and remain there. Unfortunately, it has appeared that the team has appeared picked up where they left before the pause as they finished the regular season 19-16-3 and 7-9-3 after a 26-6-5 start.

Defenseman John Carlson, who has yet to make his round-robin debut due to an undisclosed injury, led the Capitals with 60 assists, fourth in the NHL, and 75 points, which was tied for 12th with New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad. It is unclear whether he will return against the Bruins. The 30-year-old left the Capitals’ 3-2 exhibition win over the Hurricanes after crashing into the boards late in regulation. Ovechkin co-led the NHL in goals (48) with Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak and tallied 22 goals in his final 22 regular-season games. Forward Jakub Vrana had a breakout year with 25 goals, third on the Capitals behind Ovechkin and forward T.J. Oshie (26). Forward Tom Wilson also scored 21 goals while center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who scored in Monday’s round-robin opener and had two goals in his first two games, including the exhibition game last week, got 19 in 63 games. Defenseman Radko Gudas leads the Capitals with two points (both assists) during the round-robin tournament. Only seven others have recorded a point. Center Nicklas Backstrom did not practice with the team on Friday and head coach Todd Reirden could not be specific when asked about his status but said “we’ll see how he is [on Saturday] and then as we get closer to Sunday.” Center Lars Eller, who left the bubble on Wednesday to be with his wife who gave birth to a baby boy on Saturday, was still in Washington with his family as of Friday. It is unknown whether he will be available against the Bruins.

The Capitals’ average of 3.42 goals-per-game ranked second in the NHL while their average of 3.07 was 18th. Their 19.4% power-play efficiency was also 18th, but their 15.6% scoring rate after December 7 was 28th. The Capitals’ penalty kill had a solid year as their 82.6% killing rate ranked sixth. The team’s average of 32 shots-per-game was 11th, while their average of 30.2 shots-against per game ranked ninth. Their 48.3% face-off-win percentage was only better than the New York Rangers (46.6%) among the 24 teams left.

The Capitals have not lost to the Bruins a lot in the last decade. But when they did on December 21, it seemed to get their season off track as they were 15-14-3 and allowed an average of 3.44 goals-per-game, the most among the 24 teams invited to the NHL’s return, after their last meeting against them, a 7-3 loss in Boston. They allowed an average of 2.76 goals-per-game up until that game, eighth in the NHL.

Goaltender Braden Holtby, who went 25-14-6 with a .897 save percentage and a 3.11 goals-against average in the regular season, will start against the Bruins on Sunday. In 22 career regular-season games against the black and gold, the 30-year-old has gone 18-4-0 (the most wins he has vs. one team) with a .939 save percentage (co-highest – Montreal Canadiens), a 1.98 goals-against average (second-lowest – Canadiens: 1.81), and four shutouts (second-most – New Jersey Devils: five). While starting all three of the Capitals’ games against the Bruins this season, he allowed eight goals on 66 shots (.879 save percentage). However, that number is skewed because he allowed four goals on 11 shots before getting pulled in the final meeting of the season between the two teams. Holtby has posted a .898 save percentage and a 2.46 goals-against average in the round-robin tournament so far.

Regular-Season Advanced Stats

Corsi-for Percentage: Capitals — 51.6% (tied for seventh)   Bruins — 50.85% (12th)

Expected Goals-For Percentage: Capitals — 51.2% (13th)     Bruins — 51.67% (10th)

Team Save Percentage:                Capitals — .9125 (24th)       Bruins — .9338 (First)

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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