Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the "Wednesday Night Hockey" games on NBCSN in his Weekes on the Web blog.
The Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins meet for the third time this season when they play at Boston on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
The Capitals (12-5-4) have won three straight and are 4-0-1 in their past five games; the Bruins (12-5-2) had been outscored 13-4 in consecutive losses prior to a 4-1 win at the New York Rangers on Sunday.
Washington and Boston have split their first two meetings this season; the Bruins won 4-3 in overtime on Jan. 30 and the Capitals won 5-3 on Feb. 1.
Here's my breakdown of the game.
Pluses: Rookie goalie Vitek Vanecek has been great; he's 9-4-3 with a 2.81 goals-against average and .909 save percentage and stepped up big time when Ilya Samsonov was out because of NHL COVID-19 protocol. Samsonov returned in a 3-2 win against the New Jersey Devils on Sunday and gives Washington a formidable pair at the position.
Though forwards Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, center Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman John Carlson have been the Capitals' best players, they found a way to win when several players, including Ovechkin, were on the protocol list.
Good teams find ways to win.
Lastly, Zdeno Chara, who will play at Boston for the first time since the defenseman signed a one-year contract with Washington on Dec. 30 after 14 seasons with the Bruins, is playing great at 43 years old. He has scored six points (two goals, four assists) and is plus-10 in 21 games and ranks third on the Capitals in average time on ice per game (19:24).
Minuses: Washington has been playing very well, so I don't really have any negatives to speak of, but I would say it needs to play with the same intensity every game. We saw the Capitals slip on some things during a four-game losing streak from Feb. 1-14, when they were outscored 22-12.
Pluses: The first thing that stands out for me is that they have remained an elite team in their own end after losing Chara and defenseman Torey Krug in free agency. Defenseman Charlie McAvoy has flourished in his fourth NHL season and has scored 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) in 19 games. He is on pace for an NHL career-high, even taking into account the 56-game season.
Second, they have the best goalie duo in the NHL. Tuukka Rask (8-3-1, 2.71 goals-against average, .896 save percentage) and Jaroslav Halak (4-2-1, 2.42 GAA, .903 save percentage) know the situation in Boston and all they continue to do is perform when called upon. Each could be a No. 1 goalie, but the 1A and 1B has worked for the Bruins the past three seasons.
Third, not that it's surprising, but forward David Pastrnak has shown no signs of being worse for the wear since returning after hip surgery on Sept. 16, 2020. He has scored 18 points (nine goals, nine assists) in 12 games this season after tying for the NHL lead in goals last season (48) with Ovechkin.
Minuses: Like the Capitals, there aren't many negatives in their game right now. But one area that could hurt the Bruins is the lack of production from their bottom-six forwards. Their scoring has been top-heavy on the No. 1 line of Brad Marchand (23 points; 10 goals, 13 assists), Patrice Bergeron (20 points; eight goals, 12 assists) and Pastrnak, who have combined for 27 goals this season; the rest of the Boston forwards have combined for 25 goals. If the top line goes into a slump, the Bruins could be in trouble.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. How does Chara fare in his return to Boston?
2. Can the Capitals contain the Bruins' No. 1 line?
3. Who will win the special teams battle?