First Line, Second ChancePosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
There was a two-goal difference between the Capitals and the Bruins on Tuesday night in Boston’s 3-1 win over Washington at Verizon Center. The Bruins’ top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton scored twice in the first period, victimizing Washington’s top trio of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble both times. Those two goals – and the play of the two teams’ respective top lines – made the difference in the contest. With the Caps and Bruins hooking up again tonight in Boston, and with the tendency of Caps’ coach Bruce Boudreau to tinker with his line combinations, you might expect some changes up top for the Capitals tonight. There have been some tweaks to the Washington forward combos since the horn sounded at the end of Tuesday’s game, but the Caps’ top trio stays intact. “Those guys have got to be able to do it,” says Boudreau. “They’ve got to sit there and say, ‘Hey, listen, we’ve got to be better.’ They know teams like to play strength against strength against them. We have to be better at that and take more pride in it, I think.” Boudreau started his top line in Tuesday’s game, and the unit nearly cashed in on its first chance on its first shift. Ovechkin fired a pass from the left wing boards to Knuble, who was going to the net, about 30 seconds into the contest. The puck hopped over Knuble’s blade, which was the story of Washington’s night. Despite outshooting the B’s 36-21 and similarly outchancing them, Washington saw its four-game winning streak come to a halt. “I think they used our mistakes in the first period,” says Ovechkin of the Bruins. “We just didn’t play well in the defensive zone. The second goal was my fault; I just didn’t stop in our zone. We have to play smarter in the defensive zone.” Although the Bruins’ top line got the better of the Caps on Tuesday, the threesome knows it will be hard-pressed to keep its dynamic counterpart down again tonight. “That’s definitely what it is, it is a challenge for us,” says Lucic who had a Gordie Howe hat trick and the game-winning goal on Tuesday. “That’s the way we have to look at it as a line. We’ve got to be excited for that challenge. That line, that team is a team with a lot of pride. Obviously they’re not happy with how last game went. Ovechkin and Backstrom are guys who want to score and want to produce every night. They’re going to come in here and play their ‘A’ game, and we’ve got to be prepared for that.” Bruins coach Claude Julien likes to match lines and is likely to go strength against strength with Washington tonight. Ovechkin and company can also expect to see a lot of Bruins defensemen Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk tonight. Boudreau would like to see more of Backstrom carrying the mail. “You know it’s going to be good if Nicky’s got the puck most of the time and Alex isn’t carrying it from our end to their end,” says Boudreau. “If Nicky’s got the puck and then Mike’s crashing the boards and getting chances in front of the net, that’s their best attributes. Nicky’s the distributor and those other guys should be able to feed off that.” Watching the B’s top line and Chara and Boychuk try to handle the Caps’ top unit will be a great sidelight to keep an eye on tonight. “They’re going to always create chances no matter who they play against,” says Boudreau of his top combo. “But I can tell when they’re on top of their game and when they’re slightly missing. “I don’t know how to describe it. I’ve been with Nick for over three years now and I know when he’s on top of his game what’s going to happen and when Alex is on top of his game. Whether it’s body language or the look in their eyes or just the way they’re handling themselves by a centerman maybe winning face-offs. Mike Knuble, whether he scores goals or whether he doesn’t, seems to be doing the same thing every day. He’s just a battler. His goals will come.” Washington goaltender Semyon Varlamov gets his first start of the 2010-11 regular season tonight in Boston, and it appears as though the Bruins will change it up between the pipes as well. Although Tim Thomas has allowed a total of two goals in starting each of Boston’s last three games, Tuukka Rask – who started and lost Boston’s season-opener in Prague against the Coyotes – left the ice first after Thursday’s morning skate. Varlamov is 0-0-1 with a 2.17 GAA and a .923 save pct. in two career games (one start) against the Bruins. Rask is also 0-0-1 lifetime vs. the Capitals. He has a 2.96 GAA and a .900 save pct. in his lone career appearance against Washington. Steven Tyler of the legendary Boston band Aerosmith will sing the national anthem tonight as Washington supplies the opposition for the Bruins’ home opener for a second straight season. “It’s always exciting playing the Caps because they have so much firepower,” says Lucic. “Fans will tell you they’re a great team to watch. It’s a great challenge and an exciting challenge. We look forward to competing against them.”
The ideal shift length for NHL players is somewhere in the 40 to 50 second range. In Thursday night’s 4-1 loss to the Bruins at Boston, four different Capitals – Alex Ovechkin, Tom Poti, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble – finished the night with an average shift length of 60 seconds or greater.