A few days after the Winter Classic loss, the Boston Bruins really don’t have a lot of time to feel sorry for themselves. Even though they suffered a embarrassing loss on New Year’s Day to the Montreal Canadiens, they will have little time to correct their weak performance from Friday, since the powerful Washington Capitals are coming to town. They’ll make a visit to the Garden tomorrow night as the last homestand for the B’s who’ll then embark on a five-game road trip.
And the schedule is daunting for them. After Tuesday night’s visit from the conference-leading Capitals, the Bruins will face tough teams that will be packed into eight short nights. The 5-1 loss to the Canadiens in Foxboro and losing Brad Marchand to a 3 game suspension at the same time left a sour taste in the Bruins’ mouths. After a day off yesterday, the Bruins woke to Eastern Conference standings that don’t look nearly as good for them as they did just a few days ago.
If you look at games in the last 10 days, three times the Bruins played a game which, had they won, it would have posted them into the No. 1 spot in the Atlantic Division. But alas, they were beaten every time, including on the national stage at the Winter Classic. Now, the B’s are fourth in the division andin No. 8 spot in the conference barely qualifying for a playoff berth. The scary part for them, three unpredictable and potentially strong comeback teams — Pittsburgh, Ottawa and Tampa Bay — are just two points behind them, ready to push the Bruins out of contention. The Bruins will look tomorrow night to turn things around as they have lost four of their last five games.
The Capitals on the other hand are cruising at the top of the Eastern conference. They nearly made it halfway through the 2015-16 NHL season without suffering back-to-back loses, winning and impressive nine straight games in December. But with Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, and Jay Beagle all missing from their lineup, the Caps lost two games in a row against two of the league’s worst teams. Admittedly, the games were close, with Brandon Saad scoring with just over a minute left to send Saturday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets to a shootout, after the Capitals almost rushed back against the Carolina Hurricanes last Thursday night. But, the loses are still disappointing for a team that passionately wants to raise the Stanley Cup this year. And many critics think they have what it takes.
“It’s going to have to be better, it’s that simple,” said Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who registeretd just his sixth loss of the season against Columbus.
Nonetheless, the Caps had a lot of positives to take away from the two losses, which featured some impressive individual performances, despite the rare mediocre game for Holtby. Despite suffering their 10th loss of the year, the Capitals were able to outshoot the Jackets 33-29 and held a 76-58 lead in attempted shots in all situations.
“We’ll be fine,” Holtby told local reporters. “It wasn’t our worst game today. If I make a couple saves I know I can make, you’re not asking those questions. It doesn’t change the way we played at all.”
As it goes for injuries on the Boston side, Patrice Bergeron is out on maintenance, and he was the only player missing from practice earlier today at the Garden. Some good news, center Jonas Kemppainen, who was out since Dec. 7 with an upper-body injury, took part in practice, skating with wingers Frank Vatrano and Jimmy Hayes. Kemppainen is close to returning and and could even make his come back on Tuesday. With the Czechs knocked out of the World Junior tournament this weekend, winger David Pastrnak will rejoin the B’s tomorrow, despite reports that he may have suffered a finger injury at the tourney. Defenseman Colin Miller was back with the team after a brief demotion to Providence in the AHL.
But what made a huge difference in the Winter classic, and probably will be a deciding factor against the Capitals is that the Bruins will still be without two key all-round players; both center David Krejci who has upper-body injury and is listed ‘week-to-week’. And winger Brad Marchand who got a 3 game NHL suspension, the 2 of which game he’ll serve against the Caps. That won’t help their defensive game either, which was so tight (18 goals allowed during the 11-1-3 run that put them just a step below the top in the Atlantic). It will need to be cleaned up after surrendering at least three goals in four of the last five games.
Washington Capitals has a key ijury also, their third-line center and star Jay Beagle, finally decided to get surgery on his injured hand on Saturday, with team officials announcing thereafter, he won’t be able to resume full hockey activities for six weeks. However, the team also reported that he’s expected to perform full workout activites by late next week.
Beagle’s injury has been disappointing for a Washington team that has relied a lot on his consistent play on the ice. Beagle was enjoying his best season so far, scoring six goals and wracking up 12 points. He’s currently ranked third in the entire NHL with a 58.4 percentage. His absence will definitely be felt in the Capitals’ upcoming games.
One thing they can call a bright spot though in light of Beagle’s absence is the play of Marcus Johansson. He has anchored the third line with Wilson and Jason Chimera at his wings. Those three players had five points against the Blue Jackets and were flying.
“I thought he was excellent,” Trotz said of Johansson. “I thought five-on-five that was our best and most productive line.”
Still, Johansson told media he had a bitter taste in his mouth as he felt his efforts wasted with Washington’s late failure. “We’ve got to find a way to close it out in the end,” the Swedish forward said. “You’re not just gonna come in here and win and take two points and go home. We knew it was going to be a tough game. We had our chances to win it, but we just couldn’t get it done.”
“We never want to lose two in a row,” he added. “We never want to lose one.”
So when they travel to Boston on Tuesday, the Capitals will want to end that streak convincingly. “We pride ourselves on bouncing back,” Coach Trotz said. “We’ve got to find a way to win.”
On the other side of the matchup, Boston will also look for a way to win. At today’s hour-long practice, the coach featured a lot of hard defensive zone play, complete with serious physical battles for pucks and position. The team stayed mum on the Winter Classic debacle or about anything else that’s happened in recent weeks — they look like they are just trying to focus on what lies ahead.
“We’re moving forward,” said coach Claude Julien. “We’re done talking about this last month. It’s been a month that we’ve grinded through, but we’re done. For me, it’s about moving forward and not even talking about it. That’s what we’ve done today; were talking about our team moving forward here.”
We think it’s all nice and stuff to talk about moving forward, but can they take that step? Against the Capitals, probably not.
Our Pick: Caps over Bruins, 5-3