CAPITALS WEEKLY PRIMER:
The Capitals play four games in six days this week highlighted by their first meeting with the Boston Bruins since last year’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
The Capitals also face the Florida Panthers for the third of four meetings this season before facing the New York Islanders and Rangers in back-to-back weekend matinees.
All numbers below are through Sunday.
TUESDAY, MARCH 5 VS. BOSTON BRUINS (14-3-2; 2ND PLACE NORTHEAST DIVISION)
The Capitals and Bruins grew plenty familiar with one another last spring during an epic first-round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Joel Ward’s overtime game-winning goal in Game 7 in Boston was ultimately the difference as all seven games were decided by one goal for the first time in NHL history.
Washington and Boston meet for the first time since with Braden Holtby and Tuukka Rask the expected starters Tuesday at Verizon Center. While Holtby played every minute of last year’s playoff series for the Capitals, Rask has done an admirable job this year of replacing Tim Thomas as Boston’s fulltime No.1.
Rask begins the week among the NHL’s leaders with an 11-2-2 record, 1.97 goals-against-average and .928 save percentage. In three career starts against the Capitals though, Rask is 0-2-1 with a 3.45 GAA and .877 SV%.
Boston also comes to town with the NHL’s top-rated penalty killing unit at 91.1% while the Capitals power play began the week ranked second in the Eastern Conference at 26.1%.
The Bruins had their season-high six-game winning streak snapped with a 4-3 loss at home Sunday night against the Northeast Division leading Montreal Canadiens. Boston trails Montreal by two points for the division lead, but the Bruins have played three fewer games. Boston’s 14-3-2 start is the best in franchise history since 1929-30.
THURSDAY, MARCH 7 VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (6-11-5; 5TH PLACE SOUTHEAST DIVISION)
The Capitals conclude their two-game homestand Thursday with the third of four meetings this season against the Florida Panthers.
Washington has already swept a home-and-home series against Florida this season with a 5-0 win at Verizon Center on Feb.9, followed by a 6-5 overtime win in Sunrise three nights later.
Florida has lost 10-of-12 overall and the injury bug has run rampant in South Florida. On Sunday the Panthers placed goalie Jose Theodore and defenseman Dimitry Kulikov on IR- a list that already included captain Ed Jovanovski and forwards Kris Versteeg, Scottie Upshall and Sean Begenheim.
Versteeg has not played since Feb.12 against the Capitals when he took a hit from Alex Ovechkin in the opening minutes.
Rookie Jonathan Huberdeau has done his part in picking up the offensive slack with a team-high 10 goals and 15 points in 22 games. Huberdeau, 19, was named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for February.
SATURDAY, MARCH 9 @ NEW YORK ISLANDERS (9-11-2; 5TH PLACE ATLANTIC DIVISION)
The Capitals make their only trip of the season to Uniondale, NY, on Saturday as they visit the Islanders for the first of three meetings this season.
The Islanders snapped a four-game losing streak with a shootout win against the Ottawa Senators Sunday but Jack Capuano’s bunch remains on the outside of a playoff position and in last place in Atlantic Division.
John Tavares is enjoying a breakthrough season on the Island as the first overall pick from the 2009 NHL Draft begins the week tied for second in the NHL with 13 goals in 22 games. Tavares’ also ranks seventh in League scoring with 25 points and he is tied with Minnesota’s Zach Parise for tops in the NHL with 86 shot s on goal this season.
Former Capitals center Keith Aucoin has remained on the Islanders roster throughout the season, but after recording four goals in his first seven games, Aucoin begins the week on a 12-game goalless drought. The 34-year-old has one assist over that span.
SUNDAY, MARCH 10 VS. NEW YORK RANGERS (10-8-2; 4TH PLACE ATLANTIC DIVISION)
The Rangers make their only visit of the year to Verizon Center Sunday afternoon in the second of three meetings this season between the former Patrick Division rivals.
The Capitals fell 2-1 at Madison Square Garden on Feb.17, despite Braden Holtby turning aside 38 of 40 shots. New York would then lose its next four games while leading scorer Rick Nash was sidelined with an undisclosed injury. Nash has since returned and the Rangers began the week on a two-game winning streak.
Despite missing four games in late February, Nash remains New York’s leading scorer as his 16 points (5G, 11A) are two clear of linemate Marian Gaborik (7G, 7A) for the team-high.