Dec. 23 vs. Boston Bruins at TD Garden
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Washington Capitals 26-6-5
Boston Bruins 17-12-4
With the NHL's three-day holiday break looming just ahead on the hockey horizon, the Caps make a one-game run to Boston on Monday to finish their season's series with the Bruins. For Washington, Monday's game is its third in four nights in front of the break.
The Caps come in on the heels of a businesslike weekend in which they swept a set of back-to-back games - their third consecutive sweep of back-to-back games - at New Jersey and against a more rested Tampa Bay team, respectively. In the process, all four lines contributed on the scoresheet among the nine goals scored in the two games, with the Caps getting goals from two different defensemen in both games.
The Caps also got great goaltending on both nights, and Washington's penalty kill was 9-for-10 on the weekend, including a perfect 7-for-7 against the Lightning's vaunted extra-man outfit. With the score even at 1-1 in the back half of the third period on Saturday, Tampa Bay had 86 seconds with a two-man advantage against a weary Caps team. But Braden Holtby and the Caps' penalty killing corps stood firm, retaining their structure and composure.
"We stuck with our game plan," says Holtby of the team's penalty killing efforts on Saturday. "Obviously, they're going to get some looks at 5-on-3, to shoot at anyway. The biggest thing in those situations is when they get something, we don't get running around. We didn't.
"We stuck to our process, we trusted me to make those saves, took away lateral options. And all night we were like that, especially against a power play like that. They're going to get looks. They're too skilled not to. It's just a matter of when they get them, don't get to running around after, and we did a great job of that."
Earlier this season, the Caps won all six games they played in a span of 10 nights, and on Monday in Boston they will take aim on a third win in four nights, having taken the back-to-backs before traveling to Beantown on Sunday.
"I think we're playing smart hockey on these back-to-backs," says Caps defenseman Radko Gudas, who scored his first goal as a Capital on Saturday against the Lightning, his first NHL employer. "We're playing simple, and we don't make it overly hard on ourselves with unnecessary turnovers. We believe in ourselves and there is a lot of communication on the ice, so I think the maturity of the team speaks for itself. But guys know when to make what kind of plays, and that's what has worked in our favor."
In Saturday's win over Tampa Bay, the Caps finished the sweep of the season's series and they'll be seeking to do the same against the Bruins. The Caps claimed a 3-2 shootout win here on Nov. 16, and they outlasted the Bruins by the same score in regulation in Washington on Dec. 11.
Immediately after the Caps left Beantown with two points in that Nov. 16 contest, the Bruins reeled off a run of eight straight victories, outscoring the opposition by a combined 31-12 in the process. But since then and starting with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Blackhawks on Dec. 5, Boston has won just one of its last eight games (1-4-4) while being outscored 31-22.
Five of the B's losses during that stretch were by a single goal, and Boston enters Monday's game with a four-game point streak (1-0-3) as well as a three-game losing streak (0-0-3). The Bruins' slide hasn't harmed them in the Atlantic Division standings, where they still own a nine-point lead over second place Toronto. It's the widest lead of any of the NHL's four division leaders.
The Bruins are 12-1-8 at home, but they've dropped five straight at TD Garden (0-1-4). The Caps' Monday night visit concludes a four-game homestand in which Boston dropped a shootout decision to the Islanders sandwiched between a pair of 4-3 overtime losses to Los Angeles and Nashville, respectively.
In Saturday night's loss to the Preds, the Bruins twice led by a goal but weren't able to expand their lead. The B's needed a late Patrice Bergeron goal to force overtime, and they lost on Ryan Ellis' goal in the extra session.
For Monday's game against the Capitals, the Bruins will be without stalwart veteran defenseman Zdeno Chara. He will be undergoing follow-up surgery clean up a broken jaw, an injury he sustained in the Stanley Cup Final Series against St. Louis last spring. Chara isn't expected to be sidelined for long, and he may end up missing only Monday's game against Washington.