February 2 vs. Boston Bruins at Banknorth Garden Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2:00 p.m. on www.washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (37-12-6)
Boston Bruins (23-21-9)
Exactly four months after forging a 4-1 win over the Bruins in Boston to open the 2009-10 season, the Capitals are flying back to Beantown for the second of their two away dates with the B’s this season. Instead of seeking to start the season on a strong note, this time the Caps are looking to carve out their own special place in the franchise’s record books.
Washington comes to town fresh from a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon. That victory was the Capitals’ 10th in succession, and it matched a franchise standard that stood alone for longer than a quarter century. On Tuesday, the Caps will aim to make it 11 wins in a row against the Bruins. Only one NHL team in the last decade – the 2007-08 San Jose Sharks – has had a winning streak of as many as 11 games.
“Everything seems to be better when you win 10 games in a row,” says Caps center David Steckel. “But the toughest thing to do is not get complacent. You can say, ‘Hey, all right, we’re bound for a loss.’ That’s the easiest way to approach a game. But we have something special here so I don’t think we’re going to approach this next game by that means.”
Washington’s run of stellar play extends much farther back than just the last 10 games. The Capitals are 24-7 in their last 31 games. During that period of time, they’ve scored an average of 4.1 goals per game and allowed just 2.45 goals per contest.
In those last 31 games, the Caps have scored four or more goals 19 times. They’ve allowed two or fewer in 20 of those contests.
Jose Theodore held the Bruins to one goal in a 4-1 win on opening night here in Beantown, back on Oct. 1. He won three games in October, three in November and three in December. But he caught fire in January, going 8-1 with a 2.28 GAA and a .930 save pct.
Theodore is currently riding a personal seven-game winning streak, matching his personal best. He had a seven-game run late in the 2001-02 season with Montreal, the season he won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP.
Sunday’s win over the Lightning did not feature a dominant capitals performance. The Caps took a 2-0 lead after the first 40 minutes, but found themselves knotted with the Bolts in the third after the Lightning struck twice in a span of just 2:32.
Caps left wing Alex Ovechkin – who was named the NHL’s No. 1 star for the month of January on Monday – had difficulty getting his shots through for most of the afternoon. But with less than seven minutes left, he finally snuck a shot past Tampa Bay netminder Mike Smith to regain the lead for Washington at 3-2.
From there, the Caps kept the Bolts at bay and ran their streak to double-digits.
“I didn’t think the last two games were our best games,” admits Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “But you’re not going to play in this league and score five goals every game and allow one goal a game every game. The league is just too good. We found a way to win, the guys like to win and they understand that the feeling of winning is a great feeling and hopefully it will continue this week.”
Washington has had at least one power play goal in each of its last nine games, going 12-for-32 (37.5%) with the extra man during that span. The Capitals are 26-for-28 (92.9%) on the penalty kill in their last seven games.
The Capitals lead the league in goals per game (3.82) and in power play pct. (26.3%). They’ve crept up to 11th in the league in goals allowed at 2.67 per game.
The Caps are 16-9-3 on the road this season, and they’ve won each of their last three away from Verizon Center.
When they took on the Caps to start the season four months ago, the Bruins were seen as one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference and as a contender for the top spot in the conference. But the season hasn’t unfolded the way the B’s or their faithful envisioned.
With 55 standings points, the Bruins have been relegated to the thick cluster of eight ordinary Eastern clubs coagulated within just three points of one another and vying for the final three playoff berths in the conference.
Boston is 1-8-2 in its last 11 games and it finished January with a 3-9-2 mark for the month. Only one of the Bruins’ three wins in that span – a Jan. 5 victory over Ottawa – came in regulation time.
The Bruins hit their high-water mark for 2009-10 on New Year’s Day when their 2-1 come-from-behind overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers pushed them to 21-12-7 on the season. They’ve flailed to a 2-9-2 mark since.
An anemic attack has been at the root of Bruins’ woes. They scored more than three goals only once in their 14 January games and have tallied two or fewer in each of their last half dozen showings.
Boston has also been beset by injuries to key players throughout the season. Only four Bruins have played in all 53 of the team’s games to date. The B’s have slowly regained their collective health, and are currently riding without only defenseman Andrew Ference.
For the B’s, Washington’s visit is the second game of a four-game homestand. Boston comes into Tuesday’s game off a 3-2 shootout loss to Los Angeles on Saturday. The Bruins scored both of their goals against the Kings on the power play in that game, but the Boston extra-man unit is just 3-for-24 (12.5%) in the team’s last 10 games.
The Bruins feature the league’s third-best penalty killing outfit. Boston has successfully snuffed 86.4% of its opponents’ manpower advantage situations this season.