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March 5 vs. Boston Bruins at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast Sports Network
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
Boston Bruins (14-3-2)
Washington Capitals (8-11-1)
Fresh from an uplifting 3-0 shutout win over the Jets in Winnipeg on Saturday afternoon, the Caps return home to take on the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center on Tuesday night.
The game is the first between the two teams since Washington ousted the then-defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins from the playoffs in a grueling seven-game series in which all seven contests were decided by a single goal, four of them in overtime.
“Real tight, real hard fought, there’s not a lot of room out there,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer of facing the Bruins. “They’ve got some real good, tough defensemen that you’ve got to battle hard and try to wear down.”
Winners of six of their last nine, the Caps will be seeking to build on Saturday’s win as they try to climb out of an early season hole they dug with a 2-8-1 start. The Caps have struggled with the better teams in the Eastern Conference this season, and they are just 3-9-1 against teams outside the Southeast Division.
They’ll get a chance to topple one of the top teams on Tuesday. Boston has dropped just three games in regulation in its first 19 games of the season.
“They’re playing good hockey,” says Brouwer of the Bruins. “They’ve got a really good record right now. I think we’ve cleaned up our game quite a bit. We’ve limited our mistakes, we’ve been playing real good hockey and taking care of our own end. I know these guys like to work off transition and move the puck up real quick. I think with our neutral zone hopefully we’ll be able to slow them down and be able to create some turnovers of our own.”
Most of the Caps’ recent improvement has come at their own end of the ice. After allowing 41 goals in 11 games on their way to that 2-8-1 start, the Caps have surrendered just 18 goals in their last nine games to go 6-3. They’ve limited the opposition to two or fewer tallies in five of their last nine games.
“It’s a five man system in our zone now,” says Caps defenseman Tom Poti. “It’s not just the defense and the goalie back there, the three forwards are helping us out down low and it’s made a huge difference for us. We know where everyone is and what they’re supposed to be doing when we do get the puck so it is easier to make plays.”
“It starts in our neutral zone for us,” says Brouwer. “We’ve been able to slow teams down. We’ve been able to make it so our defensemen have time to go back and get the puck and are able to make a play. When we do get stuck in our own end, we’ve got a good system that the guys are comfortable with that we fall back on and make sure that we know what positions we’re going to be in and where to be on the ice.
“You’re going to have shifts where you’re hemmed into your own zone for a substantial period of time. But as long as guys aren’t panicking, making the right plays and keeping their heads up, that’s where we’ve been successful as of late.”
Braden Holtby gets the start for Washington on Tuesday against the Bruins. Holtby made his NHL debut against the Bruins in a Nov. 5, 2010 relief effort at Verizon Center, coming away with the win that night despite entering the game in the third period. More recently and notably, Holtby was brilliant in last spring’s playoff series against Boston.
Holtby was 4-3 with a 2.00 GAA and a .940 save pct. during that seven-game series last spring. He saw at least 30 shots in all seven games, and held the Bruins to one goal in four of the seven, all Washington wins.
Holtby’s Tuesday night start against the Bruins is his 10th straight starting assignment. That matches a 10-game run Tomas Vokoun had as the Caps’ starting goaltender in Dec.-Jan. of last season. The last time a Caps goalie started more than 10 straight contests was a 16-game run with Olie Kolzig between the pipes from Oct. 17 to Nov. 22, 2003. He was 4-11-0-1.
During the life of his current run of nine straight starts, Holtby is 6-3 with three shutouts, a 2.11 GAA and a .934 save pct.
Although they’ve won six of their last nine, the Capitals are still mired in the nether reaches of the Eastern Conference standings. They know they’ve got to start stacking wins in order to climb the rungs of the standings ladder, and that means beating good teams like the Bruins.
“We need to start winning some games against some teams that are in the playoffs and we’ve got to try and catch them,” says Brouwer. “We’ve been playing good hockey. There’s no better time to play these guys.”
Boston’s six-game winning streak was halted on Sunday night when the B’s suffered a 4-3 home ice setback at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. With Montreal backup goaltender Peter Budaj between the pipes, the Habs rebounded from a 3-2 third period deficit to wrest two points from the Bruins and take over the top spot in the hotly contested Northeast Division standings.
The Bruins have limited the opposition to two or fewer goals in 13 of their 19 games this season.
As a team, the Bruins are among the leaders in most statistical categories. They’ve allowed just 2.16 goals per game, the fourth fewest in the NHL heading into Monday night’s slate of action. The Bruins have scored 2.90 goals per game to rank eighth in the NHL.
Although they’ve surrendered at least one power-play goal in each of their last three games, the Bruins still boast of the league’s best penalty-killing outfit. They’ve snuffed out 91.1% of the opposition’s power play opportunities on the season.
Finally, Boston’s 58% face-off win percentage is by far the best in the NHL. The distance between the Bruins and the second-place face-off team (Phoenix, 53.7%) is greater than the distance between any other two teams from top to bottom on the NHL’s face-off ledger.