Nov. 4 vs. Boston Bruins at TD Garden
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 6-6-1
Boston Bruins 5-3-3
The Capitals head to Boston for a Saturday night date with the Bruins, the first of three meetings this season between the two Eastern Conference teams. Both the Caps and the B's come into Saturday's game on the heels of one-goal victories on home ice two nights earlier.
Washington ended a three-game home losing streak - its longest losing streak (in regulation) at home in nearly four years - with a 4-3 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday night at Capital One Arena. Meanwhile up north, the Bruins edged the Vegas Golden Knights by a 2-1 count at TD Garden.
For the first time in eight games and the first time in four home games, the Caps scored the game's first goal in Thursday's win over New York, getting a Taylor Chorney tally at 5:55 of the first to open up the scoring. Washington never trailed in the game, and the combination of secondary scoring and an excellent performance from Braden Holtby in goal (35 saves) proved to be too much for the Islanders to overcome.
"I think [Holtby] was really sharp tonight," says Caps defenseman John Carlson. "Obviously we gave up the two [penalty killing] goals, but otherwise he was real dialed in and real sharp. He made every big momentum swing save, and that's huge for us."
Video: Caps 365 | November 3
Washington was outshot 16-2 in the third period, and it went more than 13 minutes without a shot on net after Alex Chiasson's goal late in the second period gave the Capitals a 3-2 lead. But Lars Eller scored what would prove to be the game-winner on the second of those two third-period shots on net, scoring his second goal of the game with just 3:21 remaining.
On Saturday in Boston, the Caps will be aiming for their first set of consecutive victories since they won their first two games of the season. Washington earned points in each of its first three games (2-0-1) of 2017-18, but it hasn't managed to pull a point in two straight games since.
One of the hallmarks of recent vintage Capitals teams was its ability to put together lengthy and sustained shifts in the offensive zone. This season's edition of the Caps is a much different team in terms of personnel and makeup, as we've noted often here in the last month or so, and thus far the Caps have spent more time in their own end of the ice than in the attack zone.
"I think the game is chancing a little bit, too," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "We've had to adjust our game. We've got a number of young people, and we've put a lot of attention into making sure that we protect our house because we have a lot of people playing high minutes, and we've got some young people back there.
"So it's a little bit of us protecting the back end with that, and also the game is changing with a quick strike offense. You see Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has won two Cups. We've spent a lot of time in their end, and all I know is they've got two Cups. It's sort of where the game is sometimes, where you just defend and wait for your break, and when you do [get it], you've got to execute on it."
Video: Barry Trotz | November 3
Trotz's point on the Caps' defensive personnel has some validity. The Caps have three defensemen - Carlson, Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov - who are absorbing the lion's share of the minutes from night to night. Rookies Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos are being nurtured along, as both began their respective NHL careers last month. Journeyman vets Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness are sharing the sixth spot on the blueline for now, and their minutes are generally lower than the workload of the two rookies on most nights.
Carlson is averaging 27:02 per night in ice time, Orlov is at 23:19 and Orpik is at 22:26. Then there is a big drop off before you get to Bowey at 14:55, Djoos at 14:34, Chorney at 12:59 and Ness at 12:30.
This is Orpik's 15th season in the league; his current ice time total would be the second highest of those 15 seasons, and his highest since 2011-12. Both Carlson and Orlov's figures are the highest of their respective careers, and Carlson's is the second highest in the entire league this season, just a shade lower than Buffalo's Rasmus Ristolainen (27:09)
Ideally when the Caps get defenseman Matt Niskanen back off injured reserve, the Capitals will be able to spread the minutes around more evenly, and by that time the youngsters will have several games more of experience and a greater level of comfort at the NHL level, too.
"Guys like [Bowey] and Djoos, they're going to get better every week of the season, the more games they get under their belts," says Eller. "I think they have been getting better, and they're going to continue to grow."
Although the Bruins have yet to win consecutive games this season, and although they've won three of their last seven games, the B's have collected at least a point in six straight games (3-0-3). Boston also got good goaltending (28 saves from Tuukka Rask) and some secondary scoring in its Thursday night triumph. Sean Kuraly netted his first NHL goal, and Riley Nash scored the Bruins' other goal. Kuraly's goal came in the third period, and it was the game-winner, breaking a 1-1 tie with the Golden Knights.
The Bruins have been hit hard by a spate of early season injuries. Only 10 Boston skaters have appeared in all 11 of the team's games to date, and the B's are currently without six players, including top nine forwards such as David Krecji, David Backes and Ryan Spooner, veteran defenseman Adam McQuaid and backup goaltender Anton Khudobin.
Boston's Thursday night victory over Vegas came in the opener of the Bruins' three-game homestand. Minnesota visits TD Garden on Monday in the finale of that homestand, and then the Bruins hit the road for away games against the Rangers and Maple Leafs, respectively.