March 1 vs. Boston Bruins at TD Garden
Time: 1:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (28-23-9)
Boston Bruins (37-16-5)
Washington has concluded its season series with seven of its 15 fellow Eastern Conference occupants, but on Saturday it will face the Boston Bruins for the first time this season. The Caps and Bruins will hook up in a Saturday matinee match in Beantown, the first of two meetings between the two clubs this week and the first of three between Washington and Boston this month.
Saturday’s game also kicks off a difficult slate of 15 games for Washington in the month of March, most of which are against the league’s elite clubs from both conferences.
The Caps started their two-game road trip on Thursday night in South Florida, coming away with a somewhat precarious 5-4 victory over the Panthers. The Capitals never trailed in the game against Florida, but they twice frittered away two-goal leads in the contest, reviving a disturbing pattern that has plagued them for the last couple of months.
“Those are concerns that we’ve had to address all season long,” said Caps right wing Troy Brouwer after the game. “We’ve had games where we’ve let teams back in it. We’ve had games where we come out with two points like tonight and we’ve had games where we come out with no points.
“The two points is good; it’s what we needed tonight. But at the same time there is not exactly that winning feeling in here that you get after most games when you deserve to win and you play a solid, full game. I thought we deserved to win tonight, but the way we won, it doesn’t feel as confident or as comfortable as it should.”
Alex Ovechkin’s goal at 15:43 of the third period – his 41st of the season and his eighth game-winning tally of the campaign – broke a 4-4 tie and lifted Washington it its third straight victory. The Caps own a three-game winning streak for the first time since Dec. 7-10. On Saturday against the Bruins, Washington will be seeking to match its longest winning spree of the season; the Caps won four straight from Nov. 1-7.
“We spend a lot of time talking about our own end,” says caps coach Adam Oates, “and trying to get out cleaner. For the most part, we did a really good job [Thursday] night. I think last night had its moments. It was a sloppy game just because of the break and guys were fatigued faster than usual. Passing wasn’t as crisp. But after they tied it up, I still felt good. That’s a good feeling on the bench. And we got it done, which was great. Then we did a really good job after [Ovechkin’s goal].”
Ovechkin and linemates Brooks Laich and Nicklas Backstrom each contributed an even-strength goal and two assists in Thursday’s game, and Brouwer chipped in with a pair of power play tallies, both of them on shots from the paint off rebounds.
Laich’s three-point game was his first multiple-point game since the end of the 2011-12 season; he entered Thursday’s game with five goals and nine points in 44 games in 2013-14. The Olympic break appeared to agree with Laich, who has been bothered off and on by a lower body injury for more than a year now, an ailment sustained while he was playing in Switzerland during last season’s lockout.
“I really took advantage of [the Olympic break],” said Laich after Thursday’s game. “Mentally and physically, a good break. Mentally I was able to hit the refresh button; the first 59 games didn’t go as well as I wanted. This to me feels like a rebirth; the second half or the last 23, whatever you want to call it. Physically, the schedule is pretty compressed up to then. I wasn’t at 100 percent health and I used the time to do some things. I felt pretty good out there today.”
All of the news wasn’t positive for Washington on Thursday. Playing in his first game since sustaining a lower body injury against the Devils in New Jersey on Jan. 24, Caps center Mikhail Grabovski left the game against the Panthers after only four shifts totaling 2:20. Instead of practicing with his Caps teammates in South Florida on Friday, Grabovski flew back to the District to be evaluated.
With Grabovski on the shelf again, expect Marcus Johansson to man the middle of Washington’s second line between Martin Erat and Troy Brouwer. Johansson missed Thursday’s game because of jet lag after he spent all day on Wednesday traveling from Europe to South Florida. The game against the Panthers is the first one Johansson has missed this season.
A silver medalist with Team Sweden at the 2014 Sochi Games, Johansson played center for the Swedes in the Olympics. He has played mostly left wing with Washington this season, but will be pressed into service in the middle with Grabovski’s absence.
“I’ve played four or five games in a row now at center, so it helps a lot,” says Johansson. “I’ve played center before, not too long ago here. I think the biggest thing is I’m back to the smaller rink again.
“I think it’s better with smaller ice. It’s so far to the corners when you’re playing on big ice.”
Washington winger Martin Erat did not participate in the team’s Friday practice in Florida, and Oates said Erat was feeling the after effects of some blocked shots in the game against the Panthers. Washington recalled center Casey Wellman from Hershey of the AHL on Friday evening; Wellman will join the Caps in Boston and be available for duty on Saturday if his services are required.
Boston owns a comfortable six-point lead over the Montreal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division race, and the Bruins have three games in hand on the Habs as well. The B’s have collected at least a point in 12 of their last 14 games (9-2-3).
With an average of 3.09 goals per game, the Boston attack is the fifth most prolific in the league this season. Defensively, the Bruins are the NHL’s second stingiest team. The B’s have allowed an average of just 2.19 goals per game in 2013-14. The Capitals have yet to win a game this season in which they’ve scored fewer than three goals.
“We haven’t seen them in a long time, but we know the Bruins,” says Oates. “They’ve got a little different lineup than usual. But they’re still a defensive first team, they protect their goalie, they’re good around the goalie, they’re a physical team – we know that – they’re stingy; they don’t give you much. We expect a 1-0, 2-1 game and that’s the attitude you’re supposed to have every night.”
Boston has been without top pair defenseman Dennis Seidenberg for several weeks, and the B’s are reported to be in the market for some blueline help as the NHL’s Wednesday trade deadline draws near.
The Bruins’ power play has been on a strong roll of late. In its last 10 games, Boston is 11-for-39 (28.2%) with the extra man.