An all-around team win against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night at TD Garden would certainly provide a boost, especially with four of their past five games ending in defeat.
“Well, I think it’s important for us to think that we need to win a hockey game here and nothing changes from before — the standings, the games in hand… you have to win,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “Especially the way that last game ended, we certainly needed a better performance from our team.”
The Black & Gold host the Capitals at 7:00 p.m. ET (NESN, 98.5 The Sports Hub).
After three days off from game action following the Winter Classic, with two hard practice days mixed in, the Bruins should be the fresher team. They should also be catching the Caps on a brief downturn, with them having lost back-to-back games for the first time this season.
“I think we’ve done a good job this year of answering the bell and turning the page when we haven’t had such a great game [this season],” said Frank Vatrano. “I think we’ve done a good job at answering and coming back with a strong game.”
The Bruins will need it. Though Washington is coming off those losses — 5-4 in the shootout to Columbus and 4-2 to Carolina — it still remains the top team in the Eastern Conference by a nine-point cushion.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best lately,” said Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz. “But you’re going to go through during the year. We’ve got good character people, so we’ll bounce back. I think everybody goes through that during the course of a long season.”
“We’ve got a really good group,” said Trotz. “I think they pride themselves on stopping things in their tracks when they want to. We know that we’re going to get a real energized Bruins team that has had a few days off and is rested, so we’ll be ready for a good battle.”
The Capitals have won four straight games against Boston dating back to 2014 and goaltender Braden Holtby has been a significant part of that, with an 8-2-0 career record against the Bruins.
I don’t know. Things like that, you can look into them, but there really isn’t much evidence. Teams change every year, circumstances change. I mean, tonight’s a different game. Just because we’ve had success in the past doesn’t mean we’ll have it tonight.
Holtby also happens to be one of the hottest goalies in the NHL, with a 16-0-2 record in his last 19 games with two shutouts and a 1.87 goals-against average.
“He’s a terrific player and goaltender, and we have a lot of respect for him,” said Patrice Bergeron. “But at the same time, you have to find ways to beat him.”
“He’s a goalie that’s pretty aggressive, and comes out of his crease a lot, so if we’re able to kind of push him back a little bit more, and make it harder for him to see the puck, we might have more success.”
Kemppainen Likely to Return
The Bruins should get a pick-me-up in the faceoff circle, with “a good possibility” that Joonas Kemppainen is making his return to the lineup against Washington (as labeled by Julien) after missing 11 games with an upper-body injury.
“I could practice pretty good. I feel like I’m in pretty good shape and stuff like that, so I feel pretty good,” said Kemppainen, who fully participated in practices the past two days.
“It’s been pretty long — four weeks — so I’m happy to be maybe able to play,” he said.
As has been oft talked about during the Bruins’ recent dip, Kemppainen’s defensive zone awareness and success on the draw has been missed, especially with David Krejci still sidelined by an upper-body injury.
“People don’t realize sometimes how important that is — and for our team not to have those centermen winning draws closer to 55 percent or more a game is huge. We miss that,” said Julien. “And it’s been a huge part of our game; it’s been a strong suit for a long, long time. So there’s no doubt that hurts our game.”
“He’s a big body, but he’s also very smart on the ice,” Bergeron said of Kemppainen. “He’s been very good for us on the draws, so that’s going to help us in that matter, and just give us the depth that we always like to have.”
Optional Pregame Skate
The Bruins held an optional morning skate at TD Garden, with just nine players hitting the ice. Forwards Ryan Spooner, Brad Marchand, Tyler Randell and Vatrano joined defensemen Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow, Colin Miller and Kevan Miller, and goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.
Assistant coaches Joe Sacco and Doug Houda ran the skaters through the motions.
Monday’s practice seemed to indicated Trotman and Colin Miller would be slotting back into the lineup, with both spending time manning the point on different power play units. Trotman practiced with Zdeno Chara, who Colin Miller was paired with Dennis Seidenberg.
On Tuesday morning, Trotman and Morrow were the defensemen who stayed on for extra work — usually an indication that they will be the scratches for tonight.
Pastrnak to Providence
David Pastrnak was assigned to Providence after returning from the World Junior Championship in Finland on Monday afternoon.
He notched a goal and three assists through four games for the Czech Republic before they fell to the U.S. in quarterfinal action.
“Had him checked out, and he’ll skate today [in Providence], and we’ll reevaluate,” General Manager Don Sweeney said on Tuesday morning. “Really, it’s a matter of — we play tonight, and Joonas [Kemppainen], in all likelihood, will come off IR, so our roster is what it is at this point in time, and we’ll make a decision going forward. And David will be part of that process.”
With Kemppainen likely coming off Injured Reserve, the Bruins’ roster would be locked up at 23 spots. Though Brad Marchand is still serving two more games on his three-game suspension, he counts as being o the roster.
“It’s complicated it from the get-go, there’s no question — it doesn’t allow for roster flexibility because he takes up a spot, and you have to deal with it,” said Sweeney. “Nobody’s happy about it, but you have to deal with it, and we’ll do so accordingly.”
Pastrnak played through a finger injury during World Juniors, but Sweeney said it shouldn’t be a problem going forward for him. He should be bringing back confidence from his play.
“I think in all honesty it would have been unfair, missing seven weeks of hockey, to set expectations on him as a 19-year-old kid, to come in and jump back into our lineup,” said Sweeney. “The intention was to get him back — he played a couple games before he went over — to knock off some rust, and go and play at a really high level tournament, which he utilized last year to jumpstart his second part of the year, and did impact our lineup.”
“So that’s what our hopes are — that he’ll come back and feel more comfortable, having handled the puck in an environment over there even more so than it would have been at the AHL level, and certainly, if he had jumped back into NHL games. So we’re hopeful that he has his confidence back up, and he can come back and provide a boost for us in the second half.”
Projected Lineup vs. Capitals 1/5
Loui Eriksson—Patrice Bergeron—Brett Connolly
Matt Beleskey—Ryan Spooner—Landon Ferraro
Frank Vatrano—Joonas Kemppainen—Jimmy Hayes
Zac Rinaldo—Max Talbot—Tyler Randell
Defense: Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Colin Miller, Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller
Starting Goalie: Tuukka Rask // Backup: Jonas Gustavsson
Projected Scratches: Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman