The Washington Capitals proved that they are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference by besting a solid New York Islanders team 4-1 in Brooklyn in last night’s Game of the Day.
The Caps came out firing on all cylinders, as they were able to punch the puck into the back of the net twice in the opening period. The first tally came after 5:45 of play when Third Star of the Game Jason Chimera was able to score off Marcus Johansson’s 16th assist of the season. Exactly 10 minutes later, Karl Alzner assisted First Star Alex Ovechkin to his 22nd goal of the season, putting his career total at 497 tallies, this one proving to be the game-winner.
New York finally got on the board after 21:59 of play when Ryan Strome and Mikhail Grabovski assisted Brock Nelson to his 14th goal of the season, but Washington was able to regain the momentum when Nate Schmidt scored on Nicklas Backstrom’s 25th assist of the season. The 3-1 score held into the final period.
Only one goal was scored in the final 20 minutes of play, this one credited to Backstrom, his 12th of the season, after Jaroslav Halak had left the ice for the extra attacker, setting the score at the 4-1 final.
Second Star Braden Holtby continues his incredible season, improving his record to 26-4-2 after saving 34 of 35 (97.1%). Halak’s first game back from injury didn’t go in his favor, and his record falls to 10-7-3 after saving 34 of 37 (91.9%).
The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 35-18-7, favoring the home squad over the roadies by 23 points.
The weekend schedule gets started with six games this evening, and the first two drop the puck at 7 p.m. eastern (Boston at New Jersey and Columbus at Carolina). 8:30 p.m. eastern brings with it the start of the Buffalo at Chicago game (NHLN/BELL TV), followed half an hour later by a couple more (Nashville at Colorado and Tampa Bay at Edmonton). Finally, this evening’s nightcap gets started at 10 p.m. eastern when St. Louis visits Anaheim (SN).
Two games are divisional rivalries (Columbus at Carolina and Nashville at Colorado), and only Boston at New Jersey exhibits two teams currently qualifying for the playoffs.
The matchup I’m most intrigued by is the Boston at New Jersey game, as these teams are only separated by a point in their fight for the Eastern Conference wild card spots.
Boston has been featured in the Game of the Day series seven times before tonight’s game, and host a 2-4-1 record in such games. Their most recent showing was the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, when they fell to the Canadiens 5-1. This will be New Jersey‘s third appearance, and they are 1-1-0 so far. Their last game in the Game of the Day series was on December 13, a 4-0 loss in Brooklyn to the Islanders.
The 20-14-4 Boston Bruins are currently fourth-best in the Atlantic Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference, earning them the final playoff position as the second wild card. They play one of the best offensive games in the league, and are improving their defensive efforts by the game.
Led by Patrice Bergeron’s 128 shots, the Bruins have put 1182 shots on net, only two behind the league average with two less games played. 9.8% have found the back of the net for 116 goals, fourth most in the league. The success has continued into the special teams, where Boston has scored on 28.44% of their attempts for 31 tallies (led by Bergeron’s eight goals).
Boston started the season having difficulty keeping opponents off the scoreboard, but has improved over the course of the season. The Bruins have allowed only 1098 shots (thanks in part to Adam McQuaid’s 67 blocks) to reach 14-11-3 Tuukka Rask and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.2% for only 104 goals against. The penalty kill has been only average so far this season, killing 82.09% for 24 goals against. What makes this special team significant is their knack for short-handed goals, as they have six to their credit (three of which belong to Brad Marchand).
The Bruins are currently riding a two-game losing skid, with their most recent being a 3-2 loss to the Capitals on Tuesday.
The 20-16-5 New Jersey Devils currently own fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference, earning them the top wild card spot. They’ve play one of the best defenses in the league to compensate for lower scoring numbers.
Thanks in part to Adam Larsson’s team-leading 74 blocks, only 1155 shots have made their way to 17-12-5 Cory Schneider and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.4% for only 93 goals against, sixth-best in the league. They’ve been just as successful on the penalty kill, preventing 82.95% of power plays and allowing only 22 goals. Additionally, the Devils also have four shorties to their credit, two of which belong to Adam Henrique.
Offensively, the Devils have not been as strong, with only 1018 shots (led by Kyle Palmieri’s 103) and 92 goals (led by Palmieri’s 17) to their credit, sixth-fewest in the league. The power play has been slightly better, as New Jersey scores on 19.26% of attempts (average in the NHL) for 26 goals (led by Palmieri’s six).
New Jersey is currently on a two-game losing skid, with their most recent being a 2-1 loss in Montréal on Wednesday.
Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Boston‘s Rask (four shutouts [tied for third-best in league]) and New Jersey‘s Schneider (2.06 GAA [tied for fourth-best in league], three shutouts [tied for sixth-best in league], .927 save percentage [seventh-best in league] and 17 wins [tied for seventh-best in league]).
Although New Jersey‘s defense is strong, I think Boston‘s offense can overpower Schneider’s team. Since the Devils have such a tough time scoring, I expect the B’s to claim the top wild card spot with a victory tonight.