January 24 vs. Boston Bruins at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m., Two-Man Advantage at 5 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 5 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com.
Boston Bruins (31-13-2)
Washington Capitals (25-19-3)
Washington meets the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins on Tuesday night at Verizon Center, the first of four meetings between the two clubs this season. The game is also the first of consecutive home games against the Bruins; Boston returns to the District on Sunday, Feb. 5 for a Super Bowl Sunday matinee contest.
The Caps will take on the defending champs without the services of captain Alex Ovechkin. The NHL banished Ovechkin for the next three games because of a hit to the head of Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek in Sunday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Pens in Pittsburgh.
Tuesday’s game will mark the first time in nearly six years that Washington will play a game without both Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom in the lineup. Backstrom has been sidelined for the better part of a month after absorbing a hit to the head from Calgary’s Rene Bourque in a Jan. 3 game at Verizon Center.
Since Ovechkin’s NHL career began in 2005-06, a 5-3 loss to the Islanders in New York on Jan. 31, 2006 is the only game in which neither he nor Backstrom participated.
Washington played Sunday’s game without center Marcus Johansson, who came down with an illness on Sunday morning. He is feeling better and expected to be back in the lineup on Tuesday.
“There is always a lot of pressure,” says Johansson. “I think everybody needs to focus on still playing their own game and playing the way they always play. Alex is obviously a big part of our offensive game and we have to find a way to score goals and all that anyways. It’s going to be tough with both Nicky and Alex out, but it’s something we have to deal with.”
Tuesday’s home game against the Bruins is the Capitals’ only Verizon Center appearance in a span of 18 days. Immediately after the game against Boston, Washington’s all-star break commences. The Capitals will be off from all hockey activities until Monday afternoon, Jan. 30. They’ll hold a practice that day prior to departing for Tampa Bay to take on the Lightning in the first of three straight games on the road.
The Caps just returned from a three-game road trip that started on a positive note with a 3-0 win over the Canadiens in Montreal. Two nights later, the Caps found themselves on the short end of the same score against the last-place Hurricanes in Carolina. Washington closed the trip on Sunday in Pittsburgh, rallying to take a 3-2 third-period lead over the Pens after digging an early 0-2 hole with a dismal first-period performance. The Caps ended up losing the lead and the game, dropping a 4-3 overtime decision to the Pens to finish the trip 1-1-1.
Playing without their top two scorers, the Caps will try to generate offense against the league’s third-stingiest defensive team. The Bruins have allowed an average of just 2.09 goals per game this season, although they have been nicked for 28 goals in their last nine games (3.11 per game).
“They have a really good team,” says Johansson of the Bruins. “They play very hard. That’s a good test for us to be able to play them in a tough game through 60 minutes. It’s going to be tough game to get that lead and to be able to play with it against a team like that.
“They have a really good lineup. They’re strong and tough. They’re hard to play against; they’re big guys. But it’s fun. It gets a little tougher and it gets a little more physical. I think it’s all part of the game. We have to go out and play our game and see how far it goes.”
Johansson scored his first NHL goal against the Bruins’ Tim Thomas on Oct. 19, 2010.
Washington’s special teams play has been anything but special of late. The Caps are just 1-for-15 (6.7%) with the extra man in their last five games, and they are 27-for-36 (75%) on the penalty kill in their last nine contests. Washington has been outscored on a special teams by a combined 7-1 in its last five games.
Tuesday marks Boston’s third game in four nights. On their day off on Monday, the Bruins went to the White House where they were honored for their 2011 Stanley Cup championship, the team’s first in 39 years.
In attempting to become the first NHL team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions in more than a decade, the Bruins got off to a sluggish start. They opened with just three wins in their first 10 games (3-7), but have laid waste to the rest of the league since.
Boston is 28-6-2 in its last 36 contests, dating back to Nov. 1. The B’s have nearly doubled up their opponents in even-strength scoring this season, 123-65. The Bruins are the league’s most prolific offensive outfit with an average of 3.54 goals per game.
Boston is 15-6 on the road in 2011-12. The Bruins have the fewest regulation losses on the road in the NHL and the fewest total road losses in the league as well.
The Bruins have had winning streaks of 10, seven and four games this season, accounting for two-thirds of their victories on the season. The B’s are currently in the midst of a more sedate 3-2-1 stretch of hockey in which they’ve earned two of their last three triumphs via the shootout.
Stick tap to Carter Myers for the primary assist on several notes contained within.