April 8 vs. Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena
Time: 7 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Boston Bruins 20-10-6
Washington Capitals 25-9-4
Back from a five-game, eight-day road journey in which they were confined to the New York metropolitan region, the Caps make a quick stop at home to host the Boston Bruins on Thursday night. The game is the front end of a set of back-to-back contests for the Caps, who depart for Dulles right after Thursday's game with the Bruins; they've got a Friday night date with the Sabres in Buffalo.
Washington is currently in the midst of a stretch of 14 games in 26 nights - playing 11 of those games on the road - a span that started on March 30 with the aforementioned five-game trip. The Caps concluded that journey with a 2-3-0 record after dropping a 1-0 decision to the Islanders on Tuesday night on Long Island. The Capitals won two weekend games over the Devils in New Jersey but lost two games to the Islanders and one to the Rangers.
Caps goaltender Vitek Vanecek deserved a better fate in Tuesday's loss, he stopped 38 of 39 shots against the Islanders and allowed one or zero goals against for the eighth time this season and for the seventh time in his last 15 starts.
"For us as a team, we all have a lot of confidence in Vitek and [Ilya Samsonov], whoever is in net on a given day," says Caps defenseman Brenden Dillon. "And all you can ask of those guys is just to give us an opportunity, especially in some games when you're on the road and in a tough environment where maybe a team has got a little bit of momentum going. You get a big save, a big stop, and it gets you up on the bench; it's a bit of an energizer for you.
"It's unfortunate when you're not able to get the win for those guys when they battle hard like that but, Vitek played an awesome game and it's great to see."
The loss in Tuesday's trip finale drops the Caps into a tie for first place with the Islanders in the NHL's East Division. Both teams have 54 points with 17 games remaining.
"Not great overall," says Caps defenseman Justin Schultz of the road trip. "We would have liked a few more wins, but it's a tough road trip. We'll be happy to go home and regroup here for a little bit. We'll learn from this game, then forget about it and move on."
Even with three losses in five games on the trip, the Caps have won 10 of their last 14 road games (10-4-0).
"We did our job against Jersey," says Caps center Lars Eller. "We got out of there with two wins. I just think all the other games - the New York games - we didn't really play up to the level we're capable of. We didn't hit our stride. We weren't good enough, basically. We could be better than we showed in those three games."
Despite a road trip they viewed as subpar, the Capitals are 19-6-1 overall in their last 26 games, a stretch equal to nearly half the 2020-21 regular season.
Thursday's game against Boston breaks up a long string of consecutive contests against those three metro New York area NHL teams; the Caps just finished a stretch of 11 straight games in which they played exclusively against the Rangers, Islanders and Devils. The Caps emerged from that run of games with a 7-4-0 record.
With 17 games remaining now, the Caps will be seeing a lot of the Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers the rest of the way, facing each team four more times. They've got three left with the Islanders, and two each with Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the Rangers.
In the midst of six games in nine nights to start the month of April, the Caps took a richly deserved day off on Wednesday ahead of another upcoming run of three games in four nights.
Since the Caps left Boston just over a month ago, the Bruins have lost eight of 15 games (7-5-3), and they've lost veteran goaltender Tuukka Rask to an upper body injury and have lost ex-Caps goalie Jaroslav Halak to the COVID-19 protocol list. Boston's blueline has also been ravaged by injuries, and the Bruins had some postponements because of a COVID outbreak late last month.
Although they've played only 36 games thus far, Boston has already deployed a dozen different defensemen and four different goaltenders this season. Rookies Dan Vladar and Jeremy Swayman comprise their current goaltending tandem, and both have acquitted themselves well in their first respective tastes of action at the NHL level.
Vladar was Boston's third-round pick (75th overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft, and he earned a 2-1 win over the Penguins in Pittsburgh in his first NHL start on March 16. He is 2-1-1 in his four starts with a 2.25 GAA and a .922 save pct.
Swayman stopped 40 of 42 shots against the Flyers in Philadelphia on Tuesday, earning a 4-2 win in his NHL debut. The 22-year-old native of Anchorage, AK played his collegiate hockey at Maine and was a fourth-round (111th overall) Boston draft choice in the 2017 NHL Draft.