March 3 vs. Boston Bruins at TD Garden
Time: 7 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Washington Capitals 12-5-4
Boston Bruins 12-5-2
Washington's five-game road trip continues on Wednesday night in Boston when the Caps take on the Bruins in the front end of a set of two contests in Beantown. The games pit a pair of the top teams in the East Division as the Caps begin a slate of 14 scheduled games in the month of March.
Wednesday night's game also marks the return of Caps defenseman Zdeno Chara to Boston for the first time as a visiting player in nearly a decade and a half. Chara captained the B's from 2006-07 through last season, helping them to a trio of Stanley Cup Final appearances over that span, and hoisting the Cup in 2011. Despite the fact that he didn't first don the spoked-B sweater until he was 29 years old, Chara played in 1,023 regular season games and 150 playoff contests during his 14-season run in Beantown.
"I think from day one in 2006 when I signed with the Boston Bruins, I feel really connected with the Boston fans and the city of Boston," says Chara of his return. "I developed so many great friendships and connections, and we went through so many ups and downs together. We always felt the energy and support being with us and behind us in those times. And the best moment that we call can probably share is to bring the Stanley Cup back to Boston in 2011.
"I can't tell you how much I appreciate and how lucky and blessed I am to share these celebrations with the fans and everything they've done for me and my family and all these communities I've been a part of. So I just want to thank them for everything they've done for my family - for the support and for the love."
Video: Zdeno Chara | March 2
The Caps carry a modest three-game winning streak into Wednesday's contest, and they are 6-1-1 in their last eight. Although they've tightened things up considerably in their own end of the ice over the course of that stretch, Caps coach Peter Laviolette is now seeing an uptick in offensive production from his charges.
"Even in the Pittsburgh games [last month], if you look at it, I thought that we were really good defensively," says Laviolette. "And so that part of the game has been there and has been coming. It's the offensive part that I've seen strides and seen improvement in. That second Pittsburgh game [on Feb. 25] was really good, and then we lost [Evgeny Kuznetsov to an upper body injury], and that hiccupped us again; now [T.J. Oshie] is back in the middle of the ice.
"But I think the offensive part is what is coming. We want to go back to that Pittsburgh game with our full lineup and build off of that."
Over this past weekend in New Jersey, the Caps swept the Devils in a set of back-to-back matinee matches, winning 5-2 on Saturday and 3-2 on Sunday. In each of those games, they severely limited the young and speedy Devils attack, holding them at bay for long stretches of each contest.
"I think we are defending harder, and we're defending as a group," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "That's something that Lavi has demanded and challenged us on in the last little bit. I think the offense will always come from this group; there are a lot of creative players here.
"But just playing mean and playing hard, like [Brenden Dillon] stepping up [to fight New Jersey's Nathan Bastian] on Sunday is also important. That's an old school fight and that definitely gives us a spark. Playing good defense means a lot of different things, and being tough to play against is one of them."
Washington has scored a fair number of transition goals recently, and it has also been prolific with give-and-go goals as of late.
Video: Peter Laviolette | March 2
"We've been trying to work on being a 'shot mentality team,'" says Laviolette. "We're trying to stay in the offensive zone a little bit longer. I do think that they're going to get chances off the power play, off the rush, and off of face-offs.
"Once you get into the zone, it's about having an identity and having an attack inside the zone in offensive-zone play where you can create looks and create opportunities. And I think we've been getting to that a little bit. I think the guys are starting to understand that a little bit better."
From a points percentage standpoint, the Bruins (.684) rank second in the East Division, just behind Philadelphia (.694) and just ahead of Washington (.667). After putting a 7-2 drubbing on the Flyers in an outdoor game in Lake Tahoe on Feb. 21, the Bruins had a three-game trip to the New York metropolitan area, where they played three games in four nights, one against the Islanders and the last two against the Rangers.
Boston dropped a set of back-to-backs to start that journey, falling 7-2 to the Islanders on Thursday and 6-2 to the Rangers a night later. At that point, the Bruins had dropped four of their previous five, easily the team's coolest stretch of the season. But Boston got back on the beam in the trip finale, skating to a 4-1 win over the Rangers on Sunday.