Jan. 10 vs. Boston Bruins at TD Garden
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, FAN 106.7
Washington Capitals 26-12-4
Boston Bruins 25-14-4
The Capitals are two weeks away from a weeklong bye week/All-Star break oasis in the midst of their 2018-19 regular season schedule, but they must take four separate road trips before they reach that break. They'll make the first of those four one-game journeys on Thursday, traveling north to face the Bruins in Boston.
After dropping their first two games of calendar 2019 (0-1-1), the Caps have won two straight. They downed the Red Wings in Detroit on Sunday, then came home and topped the Flyers 5-3 on Tuesday night in the District. In the win over Philadelphia, goaltender Pheonix Copley made a career-high 37 saves and Jakub Vrana recorded the first three-point game (two goals, one assist) of his NHL career to help lead Washington to victory.
Video: Oshie, Vrana each score twice in Capitals' 5-3 win
The Caps turned in a subpar first 20 minutes against a Philly team that played at home a night earlier, but Washington came alive in the second. It was a 1-1 game after 20 minutes of play, but the Caps scored three times in less than seven minutes in the middle frame to take a 4-1 lead into the third.
"I think a lot of times our second periods are pretty good," says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie, who reached the 200-goal plateau for his NHL career with a two-goal night against the Flyers. "We play a little faster and tend to find ways to disturb their changes and keep some of their guys out there and keep them tired, which leads to [offensive] zone time and some momentum.
"We'd like to clean up our starts - especially against a team that's playing back-to-back with travel - but overall we're pretty happy with our game today."
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | January 8
Washington's plus-20 goal differential in the second period this season is second best in the league, behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning (plus-29). The Caps lead the NHL with 61 goals in the middle frame, and they've scored at least one second-period goal in 38 of their 42 games this season.
With his two-goal effort in Tuesday's win, Vrana pushed his total for the season to 14, one more than he had in 73 games last season. He has 40 games remaining with which to add to that total.
"I think since the start of last year," says Oshie of his linemate, "every month he just keeps growing, he keeps maturing, he keeps getting more and more confidence, which is good for us. You can see what he can do with his legs, and somehow his hands move just as fast. He is a big part of our team moving into a bigger role for us, and he has been a big player so far this year."
Tuesday's triumph was the Caps' 15th in their last 16 games against Eastern Conference foes. Washington is 18-5-2 overall within its conference this season, and it carries an eight-game road winning streak against Eastern opponents into Thursday night's game.
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | January 8
The Caps can expect to encounter a surly Bruins team in their lone visit to Beantown this season; Washington rolled the Bruins 7-0 at Capital One Arena on Oct. 3 in the season opener for both clubs. That opening night victory over the Bruins was the Caps' 13th straight win over Boston, and the fourth of that baker's dozen to come via the shutout route. The Bruins have scored as many as three goals in only four of those 13 losses, and the Caps have outscored Boston by a combined total of 48-19 during the life of that streak.
Beset by a spate of injuries over much of the first half of the 2018-19 season, the Bruins are currently as close to peak health as they've been this season. The B's are still without defenseman Charlie McAvoy (lower body) and forward Joakim Nordstrom (leg). Boston is on a roll going into Thursday's game, too, as the B's have won five straight and eight of their last 10 overall.
Thursday's visit from the Capitals is the finale in Boston's five-game homestand, the Bruins' second longest run of home games this season. The B's will have a six-game homestand to look forward to from Feb. 26-March 9. The Bruins are 4-0-0 on the homestand, and most recently they whitewashed the Minnesota Wild by a 4-0 score on Tuesday night. Tuukka Rask made 24 stops to record his first shutout of the season in the win over the Wild.
Defense has been the Bruins' calling card through the first half of the '18-19 campaign. Boston has permitted just 2.56 goals per game, the second lowest rate in the league this season. The B's total of 66 goals against at five-on-five is the lowest in the league this season.
Up front, the Bruins are somewhat top heavy. Three of their four double-digit goal getters this season are on their top line, and that trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak has been one of the most consistently lethal trios in the league for a few seasons now. Those three forwards have combined to score 55 goals in 43 games this season, despite Bergeron missing 16 games because of injury. The Bergeron line has accounted for 44 percent of Boston's scoring in 2018-19.
Boston also boasts one of the league's top power play outfits. The B's are clicking at a 28.5 percent rate with the extra skater, third in the league. They went 2-for-2 with the extra man in Tuesday's win over Minnesota, and they've managed to scored multiple power-play goals in three of their last four games and five of their last nine contests. Boston's power-play group is 13-for-34 in its last 10 games for a lusty 38.2 percent success rate.