The regular season is in the past (for many teams), and now sights are set on the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins.
Despite Bruins fans growing plenty familiar with the Capitals given the schedule structure for this season, here are a few things to know about Washington ahead of the best-of-seven first-round playoff series, which begins Saturday.
Zdeno Chara plays for them
Didn’t you hear?
We’re obviously kidding, acting like Bruins fans don’t already know this. But expect to hear a lot about Chara in the coming days.
They’re not too healthy
John Carlson and T.J. Oshie both have missed time recently with lower-body injuries. Alex Ovechkin just returned from a lower-body issue of his own. Ilya Samsonov and Evgeny Kuznetsov are in the COVID-19 protocols. Tom Wilson left a game the other week briefly after knocking knees with someone. Chara, Lars Eller, Nick Jensen and Justin Schultz all looked ailed at times Tuesday (though they didn’t miss any time).
So, even if they technically are at “full strength” by the time Saturday rolls around, the Capitals have a ton of players — notable ones, too — who have missed some time or might not be at 100 percent.
They sure know how to score
While on the leakier side in the back end, the Capitals know how to run up the score. They’re second in the NHL in goals per game, and a lot of that scoring success can be attributed to their offensive abilities along the blue line.
Carlson, Schultz and Dmitry Orlov all eclipsed the 20-point threshold this season, with the former among the most gifted offensive defensemen in the NHL. Chara isn’t the offensive player he used to be, but he still can fire bombs from the point. Brenden Dillon has decent hands and playmaking ability.
Again, it comes at a cost. Carlson is an inept defensive player but is on the ice a lot. Schultz and Orlov have their warts in the defensive zone. But winning the series will be a tall task for the Bruins if they want to get into a shootout.
Their goaltending situation is filled with unknowns
Samsonov was supposed to be the top dog in net this season with Braden Holtby off for Vancouver and Henrik Lundqvist out for the season. But Samsonov ended up in the COVID-19 protocols early in the season, and that required Vitek Vanecek to step up, which he did. Vanecek has been the Caps’ starter this season, with Samsonov behind him followed by Craig Anderson, and that’s likely how it will shake out in the postseason.
Despite performing well enough in the regular season (21-10-4 record, .908 save percentage and 2.69 goals against average), Vanecek is a complete unknown in the postseason. The Bruins know more than anyone that means nothing (See: Binnington, Jordan), but stopping the team with the sixth-most goals scored per game in the NHL since the trade deadline is a big ask for a guy in his first NHL season.
Their trade deadline acquisitions have been working out, too
A lot has been made about the Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly additions the Bruins made at the trade deadline, but the Caps took a risk that’s worked out. They swapped change-of-scenery guys with the Detroit Red Wings, making a surprising move just before the trade deadline that landed them Anthony Mantha in exchange for Jakub Vrana.
Mantha long has had tantalizing upside, but he had not been able to fully put it together with Detroit. But not being looked upon to provide all the scoring has been good for him in Washington, as he has four goals and as many assists in 14 games with the Capitals.