WILMINGTON, Mass. — The Bruins haven't exactly faced a cupcake schedule to begin the season.
They took on a Phoenix club coming off a 107-point campaign twice in Prague to start the year, then traveled to New Jersey to face a Devils team fresh off a 103-point season. But neither team is playing quite up to last year's standards at this point, as the Coyotes and Devils are a combined 2-6-2.
The same can't be said for the Washington Capitals. They took home the Presidents' Trophy with 121 points last year, and despite a disappointing early exit from the playoffs, the Caps have picked right up where they left off as they've rolled to a 4-1-0 start.
After posting impressive wins over Phoenix and New Jersey to move to 2-1-0 on the year, the Bruins now get their biggest challenge of the young season with a home-and-home series against those Capitals, beginning Tuesday at Washington.
"If you're going to face a challenge, you might as well face it now," said Bruins coach Claude Julien after Monday's practice at Ristuccia Arena. "I like the fact that right now our group is pretty excited, pretty confident as a team. It's a good confidence. We know that if we compete the way we can, then we're as good as any team in this league right now. That's the way we feel, and now it's up to us to go out there and prove it. And this is a good challenge in these next two games to show that we are as good as those guys are."
And the Capitals are pretty good. New Bruin Greg Campbell learned that the hard way, playing against them six times a year in the Southeast Division as a member of Florida Panthers before coming to Boston with Nathan Horton in a trade this summer.
"You have to respect a team like that," said Campbell. "But you have to play hard and not give them too much respect. They're extremely deep and the thing about them is that their top players play hard as well. They're competitive and they don't shy away from physical play. They actually embrace that.
"And the other thing is you have to be smart," added Campbell. "You can try to be physical against them, but if you get into penalty trouble, obviously their power play is pretty dangerous."
The focal point of the Washington attack is obviously Alex Ovechkin, who has 273 career goals and 537 points in just 401 games. Washington also has plenty of other threats with the likes of Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble and Mike Green, but even amid a constellation of stars, Ovechkin demands special attention.
"They're talented up and down their lineup, but you do have to be aware of when Ovechkin is on the ice," said Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. "He's a singular threat that's different from most of the other threats."
Thomas has had some success against the Capitals, posting a 10-4-2 record in 16 career starts against Washington. But he knows a goalie has to earn every victory when going up against Ovechkin.
"He's a lot of work," said Thomas. "He's energy-intensive for a goalie to play against.
"Even if he doesn't hardly ever get a shot, he's still going to make it a tough night for a goalie, because you're going to be moving and you have to be focusing and concentrating," added Thomas. "You have to be in perfect position to stop his shot because you're very rarely going to be able to make a reflex save on him. If you make a save on him, it's going to be because you had the correct positioning."
Even though Ovechkin requires undivided attention, Thomas noted that the Capitals are far from a one-man show. Not only are other elite talents like Semin and Backstrom also dangerous, but Thomas believes the skill level of those top players is contagious, infusing the rest of the lineup with the confidence to try moves they normally would never consider attempting.
"They've done a great job with their minor league team in Hershey," said Thomas. "They seem to develop these big, fast, strong guys with good hands. And it seems kind of catchy. Ovechkin and Backstrom and Semin start playing good and everybody else starts playing like them. They start making moves that they never would have thought about pulling off before, but it's catchy."
Thomas admitted that Washington's high-flying style is also entertaining. He enjoys watching the Capitals work their magic on the ice. He'd just prefer to do it from the comfort of his couch instead of from the crease.
"They are [fun to watch]," said Thomas. "I prefer to watch them on TV. But in another way they are a real fun challenge."
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