The Bruins being placed into a division with the Washington Capitals this season, was not a welcome sight for most Bruins fans. And for good reason. The last 8 or 9 years have been kind of a disaster for the Bruins when facing the Capitals.
It all started when some kid named Braden Holtby arrived on the scene and stole a playoff series from the then reigning Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins in 2012. Since then, the Capitals beat the Bruins 21 of the next 27 meetings. Not ideal at all.
But lately, there seems to be hope that Boston’s fortunes may be changing. In the last 4 meetings the Bruins have won twice, including a 7 -3 drubbing of the Caps last December, and a 3 goal comeback victory in their last matchup a month ago. Let’s also not forget the January 30th matchup, which saw the Bruins also comeback from a 3 goal deficit only to lose in OT on an Ovechkin laser beam.
So how can the Bruins keep the upward trend versus the Capitals going?
The Bruins special teams have to be great
When it comes to penalty killing, the best strategy for Boston would simply be don’t take any stupid penalties. But penalties are bound to happen, so when Boston goes on the penalty kill they must be extra sharp. The Capitals have one of the best powerplays again this year, with them scoring on an amazing 29.1% of their man advantages, good enough for 4th best in the league.
Against the Bruins in the last 4 games, spanning back to last season, the Bruins have successfully killed 13 of 15 penalties against the Caps, and even registered a shorthanded goal during that period. If the Bruins want to improve their chances of beating Washington, they’ll need to be just as effective in future games.
On the other side of the coin, Boston needs to capitalize against an average Capital penalty kill. The Capitals have the 14th best penalty kill in the league, and Boston should get opportunities on the powerplay, as Washington’s aggressive style of play has them near the top of the league in times shorthanded per game.
The Bruins need to match the Capital’s physicality
The Capitals are one of the biggest teams in the NHL with their average player standing 6’1” and weighing 202lbs. There also one of the most physical in league as well 23.42 hits per game, with beasts like Tom Wilson, Zdeno Chara and Alexander Ovechkin waiting to inflict damage on their opponents.
For Boston, it is crucial that they are not intimidated by Washington, and that they give and good as they get. Washington’s aging defense is susceptible to a fast an aggressive forecheck, much like the Bruins brought in their last game against the Rangers.
In their February 1st matchup, the momentum shifted in the game when the Bruins starting putting pucks in deep, and followed them up with a strong forecheck. The momentum also seemed to shift even greater following a spirited bout between Tom Wilson and Trent Frederic. It’s probably not wise for Frederic to go looking for a rematch, Boston needs to show their not going to be pushed around by Washington.
The Bruins need to shoot the puck
Washington gives up a lot of shots on goal (10th most at 30.O per game), which is is not great for a team whose goalies have not been very good this year. As a team the Caps average 3.13 GA/G. Individually, Ilya Samsonov, who missed a good portion of the year so far has a GAA of 2.92 and a .878 SV%, while Vitek Vanecek has been slightly better with a 2.81 GAA and a .909 SV%. Against the Bruins this year, Vanecek was strong in the Capitals’ 4-3 win, but struggled the following game letting in 4 goals on 32 shots (.875 SV%). The Bruins would be wise to shoot when given their chances.
Tuukka Rask needs to be better
Even though the Bruins have played much better against the Caps in recent games, Tuukka Rask has not. In fact, besides the Anaheim Ducks, Rask’s worst numbers have come against Washington over his career. In 21 appearances against the Capitals, Rask has a record of 3 - 11 with a 3.13 GAA and a .889 SV%. When you compare these numbers against Rask overall numbers (2.28 GAA / .921 SV%) its clear that Rask can play better; And if he does, the Bruins odds of consistently beating Washington should obviously increase.
The Bruins’ top line needs to keep doing what they always do
By this point, we’re all familiar with Boston’s 5v5 scoring woes, which means unless the Bruins can get consistent secondary scoring, the onus is on the top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak to bring the offense.
This season the ‘big 3’ have scored 47% of Boston’s goals, even though Pastrnak missed 7 games to begin the season. In the last four meetings with Washington, the top line has scored 6 of the team’s 14 even strength goals; good for 43% of the team’s goals. If the top line is unable to score, against the Capitals or really any team, the Bruins may have a hard time winning hockey games.
From this writer’s point of view the league didn’t do Boston’s fans any favors when they moved them into a de facto Metropolitan division this year; but not because of who they have to face this year during the regular season. The problem is who they don’t get to play. Not having games against rivals Toronto, Montreal or Tampa Bay really takes some of the fun out of watching Boston play this year.
With that being said, the Capitals / Bruins matchups may be the exception. Over the last couple years a nice bit of resentment and nastiness has grown between the two teams, and when you add Zdeno Chara going from Boston to Washington, it just adds another layer of intrigue to each game. Throw in a little Trent Frederic, Brad Marchand, Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin and you’ve got yourself can’t miss hockey. The next two games between Boston and Washington will determine who is the best in the East Division.