BOSTON — The mark of any Stanley Cup contender is depth, and the Washington Capitals are full of it.
The Boston Bruins did a great job defending Washington’s top line of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, but the Capitals still came away with a 3-2 win in Tuesday night’s game at TD Garden because of their impressive depth.
“I’d say, probably, the top five or six teams in the league — they have a top nine that can score, and (the Capitals) definitely have that for sure,” Bruins center Ryan Spooner said. “I think for the most part, we played a pretty solid game.”
Washington’s second line opened the scoring with a first-period goal from Andre Burakovsky, who didn’t have to do much after receiving a beautiful pass from linemate Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Caps doubled their lead in the second period with a power-play goal from Kuznetsov, then added an insurance tally in the final period from third-line center Marcus Johansson.
The Capitals produced three goals, an assist and 15 shots on goal outside of their first line, which was held scoreless with just four SOG.
The Bruins, as expected, used the Loui Eriksson-Patrice Bergeron-Brett Connolly line and No. 1 defenseman Zdeno Chara to combat the Capitals’ top unit.
The Bergeron line controlled about 63 percent of puck possession against the Ovechkin line in a little less than 11 minutes of even strength ice time. Ovechkin was credited with only one scoring chance, Oshie with two and Backstrom with none.
You cannot ask for much more than that versus one of the league’s most skilled trios.
Most teams wouldn’t be able to score three goals and win when their top line produces very little, but this Capitals club has arguably its deepest roster since Alexander Ovechkin was drafted in 2004.
Washington entered Tuesday’s matchup ranked second in goals scored per game and second in power-play percentage. A total of 13 players, including four of its six regular defensemen, have double-digit points through the first 39 games.
Kuznetsov is enjoying a breakout campaign with a team-leading 37 points in just his second full season at the NHL level. He’s already matched his scoring total from last season in 41 fewer games. The former first-round pick is giving the Caps the dependable second-line center they’ve so desperately needed in recent seasons.
“I think he’s just really confident right now, and you know, I think everybody is seeing what he can do with the puck,” Johansson said of Kuznetsov. “When you have that confidence, you know it’s pretty fun to watch him play. He’s doing pretty good right now.”
The Capitals have not reached the conference finals in the Ovechkin era. In fairness, Washington has been eliminated by the New York Rangers and their elite goaltender Henrik Lundqvist several times, but on several occasions it’s lacked the necessary firepower offensively to score goals when the top guns weren’t producing.
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan added a few veteran forwards in the offseason to fix that. He acquired a top-six winger in Oshie via trade and signed three-time Stanley Cup winner and former playoff MVP Justin Williams as a free agent.
These additions, the emergence of young players such as Kuznetsov providing valuable scoring depth, and the rise to elite status of goaltender Braden Holtby make the Capitals the team to beat right now.
No other team has a more well-rounded roster that’s built for the rigors of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Jan 5, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) celebrates scoring a goal on Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask (40) during the second period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
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