Somewhere up there, in the great hockey beyond, there is a ledger. And the person keeping it is a Boston Bruins fan. On it, they have one entry:
March 3, 2008. Washington 10 – Boston 2
And that person has been waiting for this day. It isn’t bad enough that the Boston Bruins, a team averaging almost a goal and a half more per game than their opponents and is scoring goals at 5-on-5 at an almost two-to-one clip over their opponents, is coming to Verizon Center to take on the Washington Capitals, losers of three of their last four games.
No, that would make the Bruins merely a “favorite” to win Tuesday’s matchup in Washington. The Caps will be missing three of their four “Young Guns” for this game. Nicklas Backstrom is still out with lingering effects from an elbow to the head offered by Rene Bourque. Mike Green is recuperating from sports hernia surgery. And now, Alex Ovechkin will be sitting out Tuesday’s game as a result of a decision handed down by Brendan Shanahan to suspend the winger for three games after his hit on Zbynek Michalek in Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh. That is almost 28 percent of all the goals scored by the Caps this season on the shelf against a team that ranks first in scoring and third in defense in the league.
Boston could start a top line of Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand, a trio that has 49 goals among them. The Caps might start a top line of Mathieu Perreault, Mike Knuble, and Alexander Semin (if Semin takes Ovechkin’s place on the top line that faced Pittsburgh). That trio has 19 goals among them, one more than Seguin has by himself.
As the teams prepare for Tuesday’s game, here is how their numbers look:
Yeah, that guy with the ledger has been waiting for this.
2. The Bruins are actually in a slump – 3-2-1 in their last six games and two of the wins came in a Gimmick. Both losses in regulation time came to teams from the Southeast Division – Carolina and Tampa Bay.
3. Boston’s power play is in a slump, too. In their last nine games, the Bruins are 4-for-32 (12.5 percent). You might think that their penalty killers are in a slump, too. They are 27-for-36 (75.0 percent) over those same nine games. But seven of the nine power play goals allowed came in two games – four of them in a 4-3 loss to Vancouver on January 7th and the other three in a 6-5 trick shot loss to Philadelphia in their last game, last Sunday.
4. Boston does not have a 20-goal scorer, but they do have seven players in double digits. They don’t have a 30-assist player, but they do have six with at least 20. The Bruins have 10 players with at least 20 points; they have 13 players who are at plus-10 or better… the Caps have one (Karl Alzner).
5. The Bruins even do the little things well. No Bruin having taken more than 250 faceoffs this season (there are five players in that group) has a winning percentage below 53 percent. But here are some things to think about… Boston is 25th in the league in hits (one might think a team with their reputation for toughness would have more). They are 24th in blocked shots, yet have allowed the fifth most shots per game in the league (maybe they just let their goalies get good looks at shots).
2. Remember that 10-2 win over Boston? Dennis Wideman was there… for the B’s, that is. Stranger thing – he had a goal, and former Cap Marco Sturm had the other goal for Boston in that game.
3. That 10-2 game was played on March 3, 2008. Only three of the 20 Caps dressed for that game are likely to be in this one – John Erskine, Brooks Laich, and Alexander Semin. Three of the four Caps to record three-point games in that contest are gone – Matt Bradley, Eric Fehr, and Matt Cooke. The other one – Alex Ovechkin – will be taking a seat courtesy of Brendan Shanahan.
4. How long ago is that 10-2 game in hockey time? Tom Poti actually played in it (23 minutes, two assists, plus-3). Donald Brashear actually had a goal in it (oh, and two fighting majors). Tim Thomas was pulled, not once, but twice.
5. Washington is one of only five teams that have not scored a shorthanded goal at home. The others are: Tampa Bay, the Islanders, Calgary and… Detroit? Yup, Detroit.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Boston: Rich Peverley
Hidden among the Chara’s and the Seguin’s and the Lucic’s’s’s is Rich Peverley, a player of modest accomplishments (67 goals and 183 points in 316 career NHL games), but who seems to have a knack against the Caps. In 17 career games against Washington, Peverley is 5-8-13 and has scored on both the power play and while shorthanded. Last year he faced the Caps six times and was 2-3-5 in those games, his highest point total against any team. He comes into this game on a three-game points streak and is 3-11-14 in his last 14 games.
Washington: Alexander Semin
OK, it’s up to you to keep the Young Gun flame alive, Alexander. He is certainly capable; he is 7-9-16, plus-11 in his last 16 games, playing with a Whitman’s Sampler of linemates. And, eight of his 12 goals this season have come at Verizon Center. He has not had much success goal-scoring against Boston in his career – four goals in 18 games, but interestingly enough, he does have six power play assists in those 18 games. Against Boston on Tuesday, Semin is going to have to do more on his own if the Caps are going to fight through the absences of other players from the lineup.
1. Simplicity. You can almost hear the late Herb Brooks… “Cuteness? Gentlemen, you don’t have enough cuteness to win on cuteness alone.” Certainly this Caps team doesn’t (as if they did when completely healthy). The only reliable skill player they will have in this lineup is Alexander Semin, and by “reliable,” we mean he’s actually scored more than 30 goals in a season a few times. A team that is going to have Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera, and maybe Mike Knuble playing big chunks of minutes has to keep things simple. Get pucks to the net, pounce on pucks at the net, put pucks in the net.
2. Volume. The Caps troubles in getting shots on goal in the last month has been well-chronicled. But on the other side, Tim Thomas is facing almost 32 shots per 60 minutes, a higher number than you might think for a goalie on what might be the best team in the league. The Bruins are a team that will allow shots to get to the net. The Caps have to get them there.
3. Outside-in. If you look at the Caps, 13 of their top 15 shooters are forwards. The Bruins do things a little differently. Four of their top six shooters are defensemen. All of them – Zdeno Chara, Joe Corvo, Johnny Boychuk, and Dennis Seidenberg – have more than 90 shots. Only five Cap skaters have more than 90 shots. The Capitals will have to defend “outside-in” or at least prevent the Bruins from getting second chances when the defensemen get pucks to the net.
In the end, let’s do a little comparing. Boston has 28 goals at 5-on-4, the Caps have 25. Not much difference there. Washington has three goals at 5-on-3, Boston has two. Washington has ten goals at 4-on-4, Boston has five. Washington has two goals at 4-on-3, Boston has none. At something other than full and even strength, these teams are roughly comparable. But at 5-on-5… Boston has 118 goals (best in the league), Washington has 84. And on top of that, Boston has allowed only 64 goals at 5-on-5 (second best in the league), while the Caps have allowed 87. Boston plays an average of about 80 percent of their games at even strength. And the Caps will be facing that team with an offense that isn’t many rungs above an AHL roster at the moment. This is the magnitude of the challenge the Caps face. One would have to be of questionable sanity to think the Caps had even a glimmer of a chance in this one.
Well, question away…
Capitals 5 – Bruins 4