By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
While Wednesday's meeting between the Bruins and Capitals will feature a clash of the top two teams in the league through the first two and a half months of the new year, the Bruins probably wish they were arriving to Washington in a slightly better spot.
With losses in three straight (0-2-1), and playing with a lead for all of 4:09 over that three-game losing streak, the Bruins look like a team that's finally hitting the wall many feared would come for them after a playoff run that hit the middle of June and undoubtedly shortened their summer. For the Bruins, it's been a slide headlined by slow starts, bad bounces, and some straight-up dreadful decision making at times. It's basically been the antithesis of the standard the Bruins have set for themselves with a white-hot start to their season.
But if there's ever a chance for a momentum-building victory to fix all their woes and get themselves centered, it certainly comes with a head-to-head with the league's best team.
"Their record this year backs up how good they are," Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of the Capitals. "For us, we're trying to find our game. They lost the other night. They had a big winning streak. I don't know where they're at. I'm sure they'll be fine.
"We're more concerned about ourselves, but still, the opposition tonight should get our attention."
History is not on Boston's side, though, as they've dropped 15 of their last 16 head-to-heads with the Capitals, including a Nov. 16 shootout loss that saw the Bruins absolutely blitzed by the Capitals for over 40 shots on goal.
"They've had our number," Brad Marchand admitted. "So it's definitely one that we tend to pay a little more attention to. It's always a hard building to play in... loud, obnoxious crowd, they gain a lot of energy off of that.
"It's a game that we have to be prepared for."
Tonight's contest will give us another look at what could be the top two talents in the race for the Rocket Richard, as David Pastrnak comes into play with a league-leading 25 goals while eight-time Rocket winner Alex Ovechkin has 21 goals this year.
Jaroslav Halak, who took a shootout loss behind a 42-of-44 performance in a Nov. 16 contest with the Caps, gets the start in the Boston net. The 34-year-old has seven wins and a .930 save percentage in 12 starts this season, and comes into this one looking to rebound from a forgettable 16-save loss to the Avalanche last Saturday.
The Capitals will counter with Braden Holtby. A notorious Bruin Killer throughout his career, Holtby enters this contest with a 17-3-0 record and .944 save percentage in 20 career games against the Bruins. The 30-year-old has been lights out against the B's on D.C. ice, too, with 10 wins and a .944 save percentage in 12 home-ice meetings with Boston. Just consider this: The Bruins beat Holtby last time they went against him in Washington's barn, but it was a 1-0 that saw him stop 38-of-39.
The Bruins are expected to roll with the same lineup up front, but Cassidy did note that he could make a change on the backend. Connor Clifton, who lost his spot in the lineup upon John Moore's return, has sat for three straight games as a healthy scratch.
Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins...
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - Brett Ritchie
Anders Bjork - Charlie Coyle - Danton Heinen
Joakim Nordstrom - Sean Kuraly - Chris Wagner
Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo
John Moore - Matt Grzelcyk