Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals will battle with the Boston Bruins this weekend in the teams’ first series of the season. The Capitals took two of three games from the Bruins in the 2019-20 season, including a 3-2 win at home on December 11, 2019, and the round-robin tournament game between the two games by a score of 2-1 on August 9. Overall, the Capitals have won 17 of their last 19 games against the Bruins since 2014-15. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington starting at 7 PM ET both on Saturday and Monday.
The Bruins concluded a four-game homestand with a 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night and open a four-game road trip against the Capitals on Saturday. After two games in Washington, the Bruins will head to the City of Brotherly Love for a two-game set against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Bruins are 1-1-1 on the road this season after going 22-10-3 away from TD Garden last season, behind only the Capitals (23) for the most road wins in the NHL.
After winning the Presidents’ Trophy with a 44-14-12 record a season ago, the Bruins went 0-3-0 in the round-robin tournament to drop all the way to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and fell to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round. The Bruins have gotten off to a surprisingly solid start as their 5-1-1 record entering Saturday’s game is the second-best record in the East Division behind only the Capitals. They have won four in a row after sweeping the Penguins and Flyers.
Forward Brad Marchand leads the Bruins with six assists and 10 points through seven games and enters Saturday on a four-game point streak, where he has posted three goals and seven points. Captain Patrice Bergeron leads the Bruins with five goals, including four in his last three games. He recorded two goals in the Bruins’ 4-1 win over the Penguins on Thursday. Forward David Pastrnak, who tied Capitals’ captain Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead with 48 goals a season ago, is expected to return to the Bruins’ lineup after undergoing right hip arthroscopy and labral repair on September 16.
The Bruins’ average of 1.86 goals-against per game is the lowest among teams that have played at least five games this season while their average of 2.86 goals-per-game ranks 17th. Their 36.4% power-play rate is fourth and their 93.1% penalty-killing rate enters Saturday as the best in the NHL. The Bruins’ average of 31 shots-per-game is the league-average but 22.9 shots-against per game is the fewest. Their 59.1% faceoff-winning percentage is the best in the league.
The Bruins added forward Craig Smith, who has recorded two goals and four points in six games this season, in the offseason, but they lost some key pieces in former captain Zdeno Chara (who will face his former team for the first time with the Capitals after playing in 1023 regular-season games over 14 seasons with the Bruins and leading them to the Stanley Cup in 2011) and defenseman Torey Krug (signed with St. Louis Blues as unrestricted free agent). Boston also parted with forwards Joakim Nordstrom (signed with Calgary Flames as unrestricted free agent) and Brett Ritchie (signed with Flames as unrestricted free agent).
The Capitals conclude a six-game homestand with back-to-back games against the Bruins after going 3-0-1 in the first four games, all without Ovechkin, goaltender Ilya Samsonov, center Evgeny Kuznetsov, and defenseman Dmitry Orlov. All of the four are on the COVID-19 list and are day-to-day, according to head coach Peter Laviolette. They are all eligible to play on Saturday and Orlov and Ovechkin participated in the morning skate. They will both be game-time decisions. Kuznetsov and Samsonov are still out.
After two thrilling wins against the New York Islanders, including a 6-3 victory on Thursday, the Capitals are only one of three teams to have not lost a game in regulation this season with a 5-0-3 record (Montreal Canadiens: 5-0-2, Florida Panthers: 3-0-1). The Capitals have played the most games of the three teams. This is the first time in franchise history that the Capitals have opened the season with a point in at least eight straight games.
Center Nicklas Backstrom’s four goals are tied for the team lead with forward Tom Wilson, who has seven points over a five-game point-streak. Backstrom’s 10 points are the most on the Capitals and his six assists are tied with defenseman John Carlson, who has two goals and seven points during a five-game point-streak, for the most on the team. The 33-year-old has points in four consecutive games and has two goals and six points over that stretch.
The Capitals’ average of 3.75 goals-per-game enters Saturday night tied with the Florida Panthers for the fourth-most in the NHL but their average of 3.00 goals-against per game is currently tied with the Winnipeg Jets for 20th. Their 41.2% power-play efficiency only trails the Toronto Maple Leafs (42.9%) among teams that have played at least five games this season. Though, their 75.9% penalty-killing rate ranks 20th. The Capitals’ average of 27.6 shots-per-game is 26th and their average of 31.6 shots-against per game is tied with the Ottawa Senators for the 10th-highest. Their 45.4% faceoff-winning percentage enters Saturday night’s game ranked 27th.
After taking a puck to the face and leaving the game in the final moments of Thursday’s win, defenseman Justin Schultz is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. The 30-year-old has posted two goals and six points in eight games and his +9 rating is the second-best in the NHL, behind only Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers (+10). Schultz’s average of 18:45 of ice-time per game is the eighth-most on the Capitals while his average of 2:04 per game on the power-play is the fifth-most. If Schultz is unavailable for either or both of the games against the Bruins, expect Nick Jensen to draw back into the lineup after serving as a healthy scratch for the past three games. Schultz did not skate on Saturday and will not play. Center Lars Eller is also day-to-day with an upper-body injury and skated in a non-contact jersey on Saturday. He will not play either.
Bruins — Tuukka Rask, 33 (3-1-0, .905 save percentage, 2.13 goals-against average – 15th in NHL), and Jaroslav Halak, 35 (2-0-1, .938 save percentage – tied for seventh with Flyers’ Brian Elliott, 1.30 goals-against average – fourth). Rask has gone 3-11-5 with an .892 save percentage, a 3.10 goals-against average, and two shutouts in 20 career regular-season games against the Capitals. Halak is 9-11-1 with a .903 save percentage, a 2.77 goals-against average, and one shutout in 23 career regular-season games vs. the Capitals.
Capitals — Vitek Vanecek, 25 (4-0-2, .915 save percentage, 2.75 goals-against average this season), and Craig Anderson, 39. Anderson is 12-15-0 with a .902 save percentage, a 3.16 goals-against average, and one shutout in 27 career regular-season games against the Bruins. Vanecek has yet to play a game against the Bruins in his NHL career.
#NHLBruins morning rushes:
Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak
Ritchie – Krejci – Kuhlman
Frederic – Coyle – Smith
Bjork – Kuraly – Wagner
Lauzon – McAvoy
Clifton – Carlo
Zboril – Miller
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 30, 2021
Injured: F Ondrej Kase (upper-body), D John Moore (lower-body), F Jake DeBrusk (lower-body), D Matt Grzelcyk (lower-body)
Capitals lines at morning skate
— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) January 30, 2021
By Harrison Brown