Wednesday’s head-to-head with the Capitals, which ultimately went to Washington by a 2-1 shootout final, was probably the heaviest game to come the Bruins’ way in the opening two months of the 2021 campaign.
Tagged for more hits (28) than they had shots on goal (19), the Bruins were consistently clogged through the neutral zone, and their offense never seemed to find the rhythm it needed to in order to force the Capitals to open things up like they did during their two-game set on D.C. ice.
It led to one demand from Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy entering Friday’s rematch at TD Garden: pace.
“We’re not playing at a high enough pace,” Cassidy offered. “Some of it is personnel we’ve changed. We’ve got to get them playing at a higher pace than we’re used to. We’ve got some new people in our lineup [and] we’ve emphasized getting bigger, so maybe you lose a little bit of pace.
“Some of it is just our play that I haven’t stressed enough.”
On the lineup construct aspect of it, the Bruins have certainly gotten heavier with Nick Ritchie and Trent Frederic representing the left-side threats in their middle six, and the Jarred Tinordi claim added a 6-foot-6, 230-pounder to the B’s backend. They’re certainly heavier, but that’s what this matchup undoubtedly called for when you consider the Capitals’ threats from Alex Ovechkin to Tom Wilson, and blue line additions such as Brenden Dillon and Zdeno Chara. Even with B’s killer Braden Holtby gone, trying to beat this team without some added muscle on the roster probably would’ve only continued to benefit the Capitals in regards to the one-sided nature of this feud.
This is where the B’s want to lean on their energy to create a spark for their game and a hole for the Capitals.
Fourth-line motor Sean Kuraly made the brutal turnover that led to Washington’s only regulation goal Wednesday. It wasn’t Kuraly’s first turnover of the evening, and Cassidy noted that Kuraly was trying to make a play happen without moving. That’s not his game. Kuraly has been absolutely killed with defensive-zone work this season, but with Anders Bjork on his left, there’s a definite speed element to the Bruins’ fourth line if they can get moving.
Up the roster, Jake DeBrusk is still mired in what feels like the worst slump of his Boston career. Cassidy liked DeBrusk’s compete Wednesday, noting that he was ‘hard’ on pucks and generated second-effort chances. DeBrusk’s always been the type to get the goals flowing when he gets a bounce. That bounce is more often than not created with his legs, and this is a type of defense he can get a step on if they’re moving like they should.
The Bruins are also going to leave Jack Studnicka at his natural center position for the sixth straight game.
“Definitely a little more comfortable [at center],” Studnicka admitted Friday. “Less thinking, less trying to learn new things. Just feel more natural in there and it’s been good so far.”
The only change in this game will come in net, with Jaroslav Halak expected to get the start for the Bruins.
The 35-year-old Halak is 4-2-1 with a .903 save percentage this season, and stopped 23-of-26 in a win over the Caps back on Feb. 1. Halak, who actually had a 12-game run with the Capitals in 2014, has a 10-11-1 record and .902 save percentage in 22 career starts against the Capitals.
The Caps, meanwhile, will stick with Vitek Vanecek after his 18-of-19 effort Wednesday night.
On the health front, the Bruins will remain without Charlie Coyle (COVID protocols), Kevan Miller (knee), Jeremy Lauzon (hand), and Ondrej Kase (uppper-body).
This will be the fourth of eight meetings between the sides in 2021, and the second of four at TD Garden, with the Bruins currently standing at 1-0-2 against the Capitals so far.
Here’s the complete lines and pairings for the Bruins…
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Nick Ritchie – David Krejci – Craig Smith
Trent Frederic – Jack Studnicka – Jake DeBrusk
Anders Bjork – Sean Kuraly – Chris Wagner
Jakub Zboril – Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk – Brandon Carlo
Jarred Tinordi – Connor Clifton