The Washington Capitals have the most points in the NHL with 49, and the Boston Bruins are second with 46.
The Capitals (22-5-5), who won the Stanley Cup two seasons ago, host the Bruins (20-5-6), who went to the Stanley Cup Final last season, at Capital One Arena as part of "Wednesday Night Hockey" (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS).
So which team is the best in the NHL right now? NHL.com posed that question to three staff writers. Here are their thoughts:
Mike Zeisberger, staff writer
What a great Eastern Conference Final this would make. There is little to differentiate between these two teams; which is the better team across an 82-game season? Too close to call, because we haven't even hit the halfway point yet. Who's playing better right now? Washington gets the nod here. Each team has outstanding starting goalies (Tuukka Rask of the Bruins and Braden Holtby of the Capitals) and defensemen. Where Washington has the edge is scoring depth; it has seven players with at least 20 points: defenseman John Carlson (43), forward Alex Ovechkin (33), center Evgeny Kuznetsov (30), forwards Jakub Vrana (27), T.J. Oshie (22), Tom Wilson (20) and center Nicklas Backstrom (20). The Bruins have four players with at least 20 points: forwards Brad Marchand (46) and David Pastrnak (45) and centers Patrice Bergeron (25) and David Krejci (21). Marchand, Pastrnak and Bergeron make up the best line in the NHL, but Boston's secondary scoring drops off after those three. That could change during the next 50 or so games, but right now it's the factor that nudges the Capitals ahead heading into Wednesday.
Video: CBJ@WSH: Ovechkin backhands rebound past Korpisalo
Tracey Myers, staff writer
I had the Capitals No. 1 in my Super 16 picks last week, but choosing between them and the Bruins really is flipping a coin, isn't it? Washington and Boston are even close in their ability to come back late in games; the Capitals are 4-4-1 when trailing after two periods this season and the Bruins are 4-4-3. When Boston hosted the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday and trailed 2-0 entering the third, NHL.com staff writer Amalie Benjamin tweeted, "The Bruins will need another multigoal third-period comeback to win tonight. Which somehow still seems like the most likely scenario as to how tonight ends." It almost played out that way, with the Bruins forcing overtime before losing 4-3. The point I'm laboring to make? I'm having a tough time choosing here!
Shawn Roarke, senior director of editorial
Come on, people! We can't have a roundtable if nobody is willing to take a stand. Yes, it's hard to differentiate between the Capitals and Bruins. Yes, we are splitting hairs debating the two best teams during the first two months of the season but making bold predictions and sticking by them (at least until everyone forgets when we were wrong) is what we do. The Bruins are the best team right now. Forget the three points that separate the two teams in the standings, forget Washington defeated Boston, in a shootout, no less, on Nov. 16. If these teams meet in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, which isn't a bad bet at this point, I'm taking the Bruins, who have the best goal-scorer (Pastrnak), the better goalie (Rask) and are more battle-hardened. It will be close, of course, but Boston would find a way to win, likely with a third-period comeback. What say you now that the gauntlet has been thrown?
Video: MTL@BOS: Pastrnak scorches one in off the post
Really, Shawn? You consider a New Englander like yourself picking the Bruins to be taking a stand? Hmm. That's a debate for another day. In this instance, we're not talking about a team with championship pedigree like the New England Patriots. As good as the Bruins are, it has been eight seasons since Boston won the Stanley Cup. It has been just two for the Capitals. I notice in your comparisons that you omitted a category for best defenseman, who happens to be Carlson. And as for a Game 7, give me Ovechkin any time. Like I said, by the end of the season, it would be no surprise to see the uber-skilled, well-coached Bruins overtake Washington. But right now it's the Capitals.
OK, fine. Let me get out my trusty quarter and make that coin flip. Heads, it's Bruins; tails, it's the Capitals. (Trust me, I'm flipping a coin here). It's the Bruins. They're ticked about coming oh-so-close last season (and some there are still stinging from the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, too). So, they'll have something to prove again this postseason.
Now there's the line-in-the-sand attitude I wanted to see, Zeisberger. Tracey, not so much. But I guess a coin flip is appropriate when things are so close like this. It seems I'm the tiebreaker now. I still say Bruins, and it has nothing to do with a regional bias as was so nefariously suggested. Right now, I think Boston is better down the middle (not by much), because Bergeron, when healthy, is the most complete player on either team. And when teams are close, what tends to be the tiebreaker? Goaltending. Rask, with a .927 save percentage, ranks eighth in the NHL among goalies who have played at least 10 games this season. Holtby (.909) is tied for 30th. Those are the tipping points in the argument for me. I can't wait for the game Wednesday!