Dec. 11 vs. Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Boston Bruins 20-5-6
Washington Capitals 22-5-5
Two nights after taking on a Blue Jackets team making its way north along the Eastern Seaboard on a four-game road trip, the Caps host the Boston Bruins, a team making its way south to and from some of the same locations on a four-game road trip of its own. Wednesday's game against the B's pits the Eastern Conference's two top teams, its two division leaders, and its two most recent Stanley Cup Finalists.
Wednesday's game also pits a pair of teams smarting from losses to seventh-place divisional opponents on Monday night. While Washington was taking a 5-2 defeat from the Columbus Blue Jackets in its first home game in 10 days, Boston was opening its trip with a loss by the same score to the Senators in Ottawa.
The Caps came back from their first ever sweep of the three-game California tour with a six-game winning streak, but they couldn't get started against Columbus. Although Nicklas Backstrom returned to the Washington lineup after an eight-game absence, and although he and Alex Ovechkin scored in the third period, the Caps trailed throughout the night in suffering their fifth regulation loss in 32 games this season.
"Everyone can beat everyone if you don't have your best day," says Backstrom. "But Columbus is good, they're a good hockey team. But that's not the way we want to play, that's for sure."
Monday's game marked the first time this season that both Backstrom and Ovechkin scored in the same game.
Boston finished up a five-game homestand with a couple of losses last week, an overtime setback to Chicago and a 4-1 loss at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday. The loss to the Avs was the Bruins' first regulation defeat on home ice this season. Monday's loss to the Senators marks Boston's third straight setback (0-2-1). The B's dropped four straight (0-2-2) earlier in the season, from Nov. 5-12.
Like the Caps, Boston fell behind early against Ottawa and was never able to get back on track.
On Tuesday, the Caps held a meeting and conducted an optional practice. Boston also practiced at MedStar Capitals Iceplex on Tuesday.
"It's ironic how neither team was happy with the game going into [Wednesday] night's showdown," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "So that adds a little bit of extra incentive to it, I guess, from both of our ends. But it's a long season, and there are going to be some ebbs and flows to what goes on. We weren't happy with how we played. We met [Tuesday] and are moving forward with how things go [Wednesday].
"They're a tremendous team and a great challenge. Just outstanding players and [they're] well-coached. It should be a good game."
Both the Caps and the Bruins enter Wednesday's game with just five regulation losses on the season. In their earlier meeting this season in Boston, the Caps came from behind to claim a 3-2 shootout decision on Nov. 16. T.J. Oshie tied the game on a 6-on-5 goal late in regulation, and Jakub Vrana won it for Washington in the postgame skills session.
Video: Todd Reirden | December 10
Shootout aside, that mid-November game in Boston was one of the most entertaining games of the Caps' season to date. Both teams were playing the second half of a set of back-to-backs that night, too.
Washington has reached the playoffs in 10 of the last 11 seasons, and Boston has done so in 10 of the last 12. These are two of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference and the NHL.
"They have a team recipe that sprinkles in a little bit of everything," says Caps defenseman Nick Jensen of the Bruins. "They've got guys that are fast, they've got guys that are skilled, they've got guys that are physical, and all their guys work super hard, so it shows every time you play them. You know it's going to be a tough game, because you know guys are going to be coming on you and they're going to be hitting you. There are going to be skill guys coming at you, trying to make moves around you and burn you, and they're just fast in general. That's why they're so consistently good year after year."
Throughout the early years of his NHL career with Detroit, Jensen and the Red Wings saw the Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning four times a season. The Caps will be seeing both of those teams - and the Blue Jackets - twice each within the next seven games. That stretch of scheduling should prevent any midseason doldrums from setting in during December.
"It'll be a good stretch, and it'll be a good test, this next stretch here," says Jensen. "We're playing a lot of good teams. It started [Monday] night with Columbus. Going against a team that works hard like that is a good test, and then going forward we are going to be playing some pretty highly touted teams.
"It will be a good test for our team to see how we react. Obviously, we're doing great in the standings. We'll see if we sit and be comfortable with that, or if we push past that and we keep going."
Tuesday marks the 16th anniversary of Boston coach Bruce Cassidy's dismissal from the same post in Washington. Cassidy coached the Caps from the start of the 2002-03 season through the first 28 games (8-18-1-1) of the ill-fated 2003-04 campaign. His last game behind the bench for Washington was a 4-1 loss to the Avs in Colorado on Dec. 8, 2003, in the finale of a five-game road trip.
Upon his dismissal in DC, some players remarked at the time that Cassidy - who was only 38 at the time of his departure from the District - might not have been the right coach for a veteran-laden Washington team. In hindsight, that may be true. But he certainly seems like the right coach for this Boston team. Cassidy compiled a 47-47-9-7 record in his 110 games behind the Washington bench, but he is 137-57-28 in 222 games at the Boston helm. He got the Bruins to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last season, his second full season on the job.