In three games against the Capitals last season — more specifically, against Caps goaltender Braden Holtby — the Bruins were unable to put the puck in the net. Holtby enters Thursday’s game against Boston riding a shutout streak that has surpassed 186 minutes. His goals-against average against Boston last year was a big, fat zero.
Washington has a lot of weapons on its roster, but on Thursday night, the Bruins will be primarily focused on setting the tone early against the one between the pipes.
“I think it’s a lot about us just coming in here, playing our game, game in, game out,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien following Thursday’s morning skate at the Verizon Center. “I’ve seen him have some games where he’s been average, and I can say for the most part, he’s been very good against us, so that doesn’t always lie on us more than you run into a hot goaltender. So we need to focus more on just playing our game, and we’re been scoring goals this year — well, let’s see if we can continue to do that against these guys.”
Last year was last year. The current Bruins roster features a new cast of characters who are more than capable of scoring, and they certainly aren’t intimidated by last year’s results against Washington.
“It would be nice to score a goal against those guys; it’s been a long time,” said forward David Krejci. “But last year is a long way gone, and it’s a new season. Obviously, we’ve been playing pretty confident up front; we have some good offense going, so we have to keep going.
“But on the other hand, they have a really good team. They have some fast and skilled forwards up front, so we’re going to have to take care of our own end and get some chances from there.”
Holtby isn’t the only reason the Capitals will enter Thursday’s game with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference. Their offense has been explosive this season as well, headlined, of course, by the usual suspect in Alex Ovechkin.
Ovechkin has registered a point in each of the 36 games he has played in his career against Boston, headlining an offense that currently leads the NHL with 24.7 shots per game.
Given the Capitals’ size, strength and offensive firepower, it is no surprise that they are once again stacking up to be one of the elite teams in the league.
“They’re a big, strong team,” Julien said. “They’re well balanced, from their goaltender — who’s extremely good — to their D’s. They had a well balanced D, from an offensive one through a defensive one, through one, two, three pairs. Up front, not only do they have size, but they have skill to go with the size, and I think they’re just a well-balanced team.
“So in my mind, I really felt that they had a chance of coming out of our conference last year and battling for the Cup. So that’s my thought on them, and they haven’t changed that much — they’re still good.”
This season, the Bruins’ 3.82 goals per game is the best mark in the NHL. They have been putting the puck in the back of the net at a steady, impressive clip, and regardless of who is in the opposing net, they will be looking to ensure that trend continues at the Verizon Center on Thursday.
“I don’t think we should focus too much on Holtby — just treat him like every other goaltender, put pucks on net, get some traffic, get some rebounds,” Krejci said. “If he doesn’t see the puck, he can’t stop it. So we’re going to have to do a really good job at it tonight.”
The Bruins will enter Thursday’s game as the last remaining unbeaten road team in the NHL.
In some ways, their dominance away from TD Garden is inexplicable. In others, though, it’s not. On the road, the Bruins have played a simpler game. They have been more focused, especially on the back end. The goaltending has been stellar.
Often, they have appeared to be a different team on the road than they are at home, and it has served them well in five games thus far.
“I think we are just playing a really hard, strong, grinding game, and it’s been working,” Krejci said. “So tonight, we have to do exactly the same thing.”
Regardless of whether they are at home or away, the Bruins, obviously, are motivated to impose their will on their opponent, to be tough and heavy, to win. The confidence derived from their success on the road, however, gives them a little something extra, especially as they enter a building in which they went 0-2 last season.
“I think at the of the day, [being on the road] doesn’t really matter,” said forward Ryan Spooner. “We’ve just go to go out there and play — it doesn’t matter if it’s at home or on the road.”
Update on Kelly
The Bruins were crushed to see assistant captain Chris Kelly sustain a fractured femur in Tuesday night’s 5-3 loss to the Dallas Stars.
Kelly underwent surgery at Mass General Hospital on Wednesday morning, and on Thursday, Julien said Kelly — who received a visit from Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney prior to surgery — is in good spirits, though he is obviously disappointed.
“I’m planning on reaching to him today,” Julien said. “He has the surgery yesterday, so obviously probably a little groggy, but I’ll be reaching out to him today.”
Though Kelly’s prognosis calls for a 6-8 month recovery, Julien isn’t counting out the 11-year NHL veteran until he’s officially, 100 percent ruled out.
“He’s a pretty good warrior,” Julien said. “He understands the risks of the game. I’m not going to count him out till he’s out, because he’s as resilient as I’ve seen in a player.”
Julien to Join World Cup Coaching Staff
This week, it was reported that Julien will be a part of Mike Babcock’s staff at next fall’s World Cup of Hockey.
Throughout his coaching career, Julien has developed an impressive resume on the international stage. Most recently, he served as an assistant coach for the gold medalist Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
For Julien, the experience never gets old, no matter how many times he does it: It will always be an honor to coach some of the best players the world of hockey has to offer, on the biggest stage possible.
“It’s always an honor any time you’re chosen to participate in those kind of things, whether it’s the Olympics or the World Cup,” he said on Thursday. “The thing I enjoy the most is that you’re dealing with elite athletes. You’re getting to know them. You’re also dealing with elite coaches — we always learn from each other, and we don’t hold any secrets back.
“I think it’s important, if you’re going to have success, to put it out there on the line, where some of my things benefit somebody else, things might benefit me. So it’s a fair tradeoff. Secondly, I think it’s a great honor. We’ve got an opportunity to represent our countries, and I know I’m not an American, but as a Canadian, I’m proud to represent them. And when I’m with the Boston Bruins, I’m proud to represent an American team.”
Projected Lineup Thursday vs. Capitals
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — Brett Connolly
Loui Eriksson — David Krejci — Alex Khokhlachev
Matt Beleskey — Ryan Spooner — Jimmy Hayes
Zac Rinaldo — Joonas Kemppainen — Tyler Randell
Zdeno Chara — Colin Miller
Torey Krug — Adam McQuaid
Joe Morrow — Kevan Miller
Starting Goalie: Tuukka Rask // Backup: Jonas Gustavsson
Projected Scratches: Zach Trotman, Dennis Seidenberg (Back), Max Talbot