The Washington Capitals are a very good hockey team. This is news to no one.
They are also a team that consistently finds ways to beat the Boston Bruins, including a shootout victory back in November. From an offensive point of view, there are very few teams that can match them, as they score 3.6 goals per game, second to only the Colorado Avalanche, who score .1 more goals per game.
We are all familiar with the big names on the team: Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, TJ Oshie, and so on. They also have a solid bottom six and a reliable defensive corp.
In net, Braden Holtby is still the number one goalie, although he has regressed over the years since his 2014-15 Vezina trophy season. That is, of course, until he plays one team: the Boston Bruins.
In my 30 years of following the Bruins, it’s hard to think of a goalie that has been more dominant against the Bruins. He has faced the Bruins 20 times in the regular season and has won all but 3 of those match-ups. And who could forget the role he played in crushing the Bruins’ dreams of repeating in 2012?
As a whole, the Capitals have very few weaknesses, but here’s the good news: The Bruins can beat them. The Bruins beating Washington, will have less to do with exposing the Caps’ few weaknesses, and more to do with the Bruins playing to their strengths.
Below are 3 keys to victory for Boston.
In order for the Bruins to beat the Capitals tonight and in future meetings, they need to win the special teams battle. First, the struggling, yet potentially deadly, Bruins’ power play, must score at least one goal. The Capitals have been short-handed 111 times, good for 3rd in the NHL, which means the Bruins will get opportunities, they just need to capitalize.
On the other side of the puck, it will be crucial for the Bruins to stay out of the box. Washington has ridiculous talent on the power play and possesses the 6th best PP% in the league. If the Bruins do wind up in the box, the PK will need to step up.
Show Up On Time
This is becoming very redundant, but the Bruins, if they wish to have any chance of beating the Caps, must avoid another slow start.
The Capitals are 14-1-3 when scoring first and they actually play better as the game progresses. Giving up a goal or two early will signal the end for the Bruins.
However, if the Bruins can arrive on time to this game and score first, they also have an impressive record of 13-3-3 when drawing first blood.
Scoring first would probably also do the Bruins’ confidence a world of good, as they must surely feel jinxed against DC at this point.
Speed and Forecheck
If there was one chink in the Caps’ armor it would probably be their defense.
Yes, John Carlson is a world-class defender, but after him the quality of the Caps defense drops quite dramatically. Kempny, Orlov, Jensen, Siegenthaller, and Gudas are not exactly players you’d consider studs, and they’re also not the most mobile either.
If the Bruins can keep it simple, and keep the puck behind the Caps defenders, they could pressure them into bad giveaways. The Capitals currently sit in the bottom half of the league in giveaway/takeaway ratio at -83, while the Bruins sit 4th in the league at -5. The speed of players like Bjork and DeBrusk will be crucial in creating turnovers tonight.
One last note about the Caps, one that the Bruins might be able to exploit, is that the Caps have been much more dominant on the road than at home. The Capitals so far are just 8-3-4 at home, which really means 8-7. Perhaps the Caps are trying to perform for their home crowd too much, and the Bruins can use this to their advantage.
It will not be easy, but it is possible. The Bruins can beat the Capitals tonight. The Bruins are slumping right now, but nothing would bust them out of their slump quicker than a victory over a team that has given them so many losses over the past 8 seasons.