Dec. 28 vs. Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, Capitals Radio 24/7
Boston Bruins 20-10-5
Washington Capitals 22-13-3
The Caps come home from Manhattan to host the Boston Bruins on Thursday night at Capital One Arena. Thursday's game closes out the season's series between the Capitals and Bruins, and Boston is the first Eastern Conference team the Caps are finished with for the season.
For Washington, Thursday's game finishes off another set of back-to-back games, the Caps' second set in less than a week. One of three NHL teams to play back-to-backs both heading into and coming out of the NHL's three-day holiday break, the Capitals lost both ends of the back-to-backs heading into the break, though they did pick up a point in Friday's 3-2 loss to the Coyotes in Arizona.
On Wednesday night in New York, the Caps dropped a 1-0 shootout decision to the Rangers. That setback leaves the Capitals saddled with three straight losses for the first time this season.
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer started Wednesday's game at Madison Square Garden, where he earned his first NHL victory four years ago this month. Grubauer was brilliant, setting aside all 37 shots he faced in the 65 minutes of actual hockey that was played, including 18 in the third period when the Capitals struggled out loud.
"It's a situation where he gave us a point," says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin of Grubauer. "He was outstanding today. He was our best player."
But once again, Grubauer is left lacking when it comes to a decision, mainly because he can't seem to get any offensive support. Washington has scored a grand total of just 19 goals in Grubauer's 10 starts this season, leaving him saddled with a 2-5-3 record.
Washington has lost as many as four straight games under head coach Barry Trotz just three times in four seasons. Washington endured a four-game losing streak late in 2016-17, and it also dropped four in a row midway through 2014-15, Trotz's first season behind the bench. The Caps' longest slide since Trotz took over occurred during his first month on the job in '14-15, a five-game skid (0-4-1) that ran from Oct. 26-Nov. 4, 2014.
"We're a pretty proud group," says Trotz. "This group has responded. After a loss, tomorrow is the biggest game. We get back home here in [the second of] a back-to-back. We've got to play better."
Thursday's game against the Bruins marks the first time this season that the Caps enter a game with a three-game losing streak, and it marks the first time in nearly seven years that the Caps go into a game on the heels of being shutout in consecutive contests. With Wednesday's whitewashing, the Caps have now played the last 145 minutes and one second of hockey without scoring a goal, a drought that stretches back to early in the third period of Friday's loss to the Coyotes in Arizona.
"You've got to get into the interior, you've got to have some finish, you've got to hit the net, and you've got to get a little more traffic," says Trotz. "When you're not scoring, let's not get too fine. We're looking for tap-ins and that, and it's not there. Teams are too good."
The Bruins come to the District for their lone visit of the season on Thursday. The Caps have defeated the B's twice in Boston this season, running their streak to 11 straight victories over the Bruins. That streak started early in the 2014-15 season, as Trotz earned his first victory as a Caps coach against the B's in Boston, and he has yet to lose to them since.
Boston comes into town on the heels of a 5-1 home ice victory over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night. Riley Nash scored twice and added a helper to support Tuukka Rask's 25-save efforts in the Boston nets.
The victory over the Sens is Boston's fifth straight triumph, the Bruins' longest winning run of the season. The B's have outscored their opponents by a combined 19-5 during the life of that streak. Four of the five victories were achieved in regulation.
With Wednesday night's win, the Bruins have pulled even with the Toronto Maple Leafs for second place in the NHL's Atlantic Division, nine points back of the front-running Tampa Bay Lightning.
Rask has struggled against Washington during his career, and the Caps are certain to face backup goalie Anton Khudobin on Thursday. The Caps defeated Khudobin and the Bruins in Boston by a 5-3 count on Dec. 14. Earlier in the season, Washington upended the B's by a 3-2 score with Rask in goal.
Since suffering through a four-game losing streak in early November, the Bruins have played as well as any team in the league. Boston is 14-3-1 in its last 18 games. The Bruins have won six of their last seven road games, and they've pitched shutouts in two of their last four road contests.