Beating On The Bruins - Going into Thursday night's slate of NHL activity, the Caps and the Boston Bruins were two of only four Eastern Conference clubs with 25 or more wins. So when they met on Thursday night in Boston, it was a marquee midseason matchup.
When you add in the Bruins' strong 16-5-0 home ice record, Boston's five-game winning streak and its red hot power play unit, the Caps' ongoing dominance over the Bruins stretching back over the last few seasons and the 7-0 smackdown the Caps laid on them in the season opener, this had the makings of a playoff-style skirmish.
And that's pretty much how it played out.
The Bruins came at the Caps with their best effort, and Washington expected nothing less. But the Caps and Braden Holtby were also ready for it, and they prevailed once again, coming home with two points in a 4-2 win over the B's.
Both sides ramped up the physical play and the Caps certainly spent more time in their end than they would have liked. The Boston power play did dent the Caps for a goal on five opportunities, but Washington won the game on the strength of Holtby's stellar netminding and the Caps' ability to score three five-on-five goals against the league's stingiest five-on-five defense.
"I think we played a pretty good game," said Bruins goalie Jaroslav Halak. "We controlled most of the game, and they have some players that can score goals and unfortunately I didn't make a save on the third goal. That's the bottom line. I got outplayed by their goalie, and they got a win, so we just need to be better."
The win was Washington's 14th straight against the Bruins, a streak that stretches back nearly five years.
"It's a good rivalry," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "They play hard and compete and battle. It's a difficult building to come into, especially this year again with them being 16-5 at home. So, we prepared our team for a battle.
"Again, credit to our team for hanging in there for 60 minutes and doing a lot of really good things and coming out here with a win. Obviously, if we were to talk about one player that's had a significant role we'd talk about Holtby, and the impact he has against this team definitely has been a difference maker."
Video: Ovechkin, Holtby power Capitals past Bruins, 4-2
Net Gain - Holtby's mastery of the Bruins continued on Thursday as he ran his career record to 16-2-0 against Boston in 18 career appearances. Holtby has four career shutouts against the Bruins to go along with a 1.85 GAA and a .944 save pct. He has permitted just 18 even-strength goals to the Bruins in those 18 games.
Only once previously has Holtby faced more shots against the Bruins than he did on Thursday night. Back on March 6, 2014, the Bruins pumped 42 shots on Holtby in a game in Boston, scoring twice in a 3-0 win over Washington. Later that same month - on March 29, 2014 - the Caps and Holtby suffered a 4-2 loss at the hands of the Bruins in Washington. Those are the only two regular season wins the Bruins have ever managed against Holtby, and the Bruins haven't beaten the Caps since.
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | January 10
Rolling On The Road - Washington has put together a rather remarkable run of road performances against its fellow Eastern Conference denizens this season, and its Thursday night win in Boston stretched its road winning streak in the conference to 10 straight games.
The last time the Caps lost a road game against an Eastern foe was on Nov. 1 in Montreal, a game in which they led a late lead slip away with less than four minutes remaining in the game. On the season, the Caps are 10-2-1 on the road against conference opposition.
Flying V - Caps winger Jakub Vrana staked his team to a 1-0 lead early in the first, scoring on a breakaway after taking a springing feed from T.J. Oshie. Vrana now has three goals in his last two games and 15 on the season, second only to Alex Ovechkin (32) on the team.
"He's playing some excellent hockey," says Reirden of Vrana. "He has been strong all year for us. I guess the consistency for him is a major difference for me in terms of how we evaluate his game. I know we had some conversations this summer about the fact that he was going to be in the line up every night and wasn't going to go through this in and out stuff anymore. He'll be playing in the top six and it was up to him what he did with it.
"I said, 'If you are not, we'll find another spot for you, but it is your job to lose.' He renewed confidence in himself and his teammates believe in him. The work that he has put in, he's earned it. He has earned it. He continues to earn it. I'm really excited how his game continues to head in the right direction. It's fun to watch."
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | January 10
Quick Responses - Boston scored two goals in Thursday's game, but the Caps sucked the momentum and the right out of the building each time. They followed Boston's first goal with an Ovechkin strike just 39 seconds later, and Washington answered David Krejci's third-period power-play goal with a Nicklas Backstrom tally just 69 seconds later.
Those quick responses can be demoralizing to an opponent, and that was certainly the case in Thursday's win.
"For sure and that's the leadership of our room," says Reirden. "You look at the guys who scored those goals, that's our captain Alex Ovechkin and the next one is our assistant captain Nicklas Backstrom. That's our team; those are our leaders.
"We have special players on our team that love winning and understand the importance of game management and to respond right after and tilt them momentum back in our favor. Our leadership has been phenomenal for the first have of the year and just another sign of it tonight."
By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 26:55 in ice time … Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on net and seven shot attempts … Tom Wilson led the Caps with five hits … Michal Kempny led the Caps with five blocked shots … Lars Eller won 10 of 14 face-offs (71 percent), accounting for nearly half of Washington's 22 draw wins on the night. Aside from Eller, the rest of the team was an anemic 12-for-50 (24 percent).