BOSTON – The Capitals and the Boston Bruins meet for the first time since the season opener when Washington raised the Stanley Cup banner to the rafters before a 7-0 pounding of the Bruins. The Caps have been the Achilles heel of the Bruins in recent years and they hope that trend continues in Boston on Thursday as they look to end the Bruins’ five-game winning streak (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).
Here is what to watch for Thursday.
1. Eller vs. Marchand:
There was only one negative to the Caps’ opener and that came at the end of the game when Brad Marchand – unhappy at Lars Eller’s celebration of his goal in a 7-0 game – fought an unwilling Eller late in the third period. Eller said he was “jumped” by Marchand but that “I’ll be better prepared next time.” He also said, “We'll handle that. We'll see what happens next game.”
Well, here we are.
Eller was a bit more tight-lipped at morning skate on Thursday and would not comment specifically on Marchand. When asked why some incident can linger in hockey, he said “I think it's just guys remember. Just memory. I think people can remember a few months back.”
Marchand has a tendency to get under the skin of opponents so however Eller may hope to handle things, do not expect Marchand to simply oblige. More likely, he will try to use that to his advantage as a way to further agitate the Caps.
One other thing to remember is that Tom Wilson was suspended and did not play the last time these two teams met. Does that change how both teams approach what could be a contentious matchup?
2. Line Changes:
The Caps will look a bit different than they did against Philadelphia. Nicklas Backstrom is back in on the second line after missing Tuesday’s game with an illness. The big change to note, however, comes on the third line where Travis Boyd is in over Andre Burakovsky who will be a healthy scratch. Boyd skated on the right wing with Eller at center and Brett Connolly moving over to the left.
Head coach Todd Reirden has said lately that he is done rotating players and will instead play those who take advantage of their opportunities. Burakovsky’s production has again been inconsistent of late while Boyd has a goal and an assist in his last two games.
Here is the full lineup:
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly – Lars Eller – Travis Boyd
Chandler Stephenson – Nic Dowd – Devante Smith-Pelly
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Jonas Siegenthaler
Braden Holtby starts.
Burakovsky, Dmitrij Jaskin, Madison Bowey are the scratches.
Caps dominance of Boston
Some teams just have another’s number and that has certainly been the case for Washington over the Bruins in recent years. The Caps have won 13 straight against Boston dating back to 2014. You have to go all the way back to March 29, 2014, to find the last time the Bruins were able to beat them.
A streak like that stretches through a lot of different coaches and players so you cannot simply explain it as a favorable matchup.
I asked Boyd, in his first full NHL season, if there was a certain level of confidence he could feel in the locker room playing against Boston.
“I guess you kind of realize that you get comfortable playing certain teams more so than others whether that just be your systems kind of matchup where it's easier game for you or whatever it may be,” he said. “But we've got a lot of guys that have ties to here too so maybe they like coming back into this area.”
Many of Washington’s wins over Boston have come at the expense of goalie Tuukka Rask whose numbers against the Caps are absolutely atrocious. In 18 appearances, he is 1-11-5 with a .883 save percentage and 3.30 GAA. That is the second worst save percentage and GAA he has against any team. So it should come as no surprise that the Bruins will be going with Jaroslav Halak in net on Thursday.
You may remember Halak from his brief stint with the Capitals in 2014. Many more of you, however, remember Halak from crushing the hearts of Caps fans everywhere in the 2010 playoffs.
Halak has enjoyed a bit of a career revival in Boston where he has gone 13-6-2 this season with a .926 save percentage and a 2.36 GAA.
Boston’s top line
When Marchand isn’t licking opponents or punching unsuspecting Danes for celebrating goals, he is actually part of one of the top lines in all of hockey playing on the wing beside Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Those three have combined for 137 points this season and stopping them will be the key to winning on Thursday.
“They're a very tough matchup for any opposing team coming in with them having last change,” Reirden said. “It's really awareness of them, they're very creative group but also play on the edge as well. It's a difficult matchup and especially being the road team can make for some tough shifts. It'll decide the game tonight, how we do against that group.”
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