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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Boston Bruins

The Canes kick off the New Year with a trio of Eastern Conference foes.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Washington Capitals

Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Washington Capitals at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes will look to extend their six-game home winning streak, which dates all the way back to November 26th, as they take on their Metropolitan Division rival Washington Capitals on Tuesday night. This is the first meeting of the season between the two.

The Capitals have continued their winning ways in the regular season, as they have earned a 24-13-3 record, which places them at the top of the ultra-competitive Metro Division. The top performers are the usual suspects on a Caps team that has certainly seen its share of turnover from last season. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Nicklas Backstrom are the familiar names leading the way in the nation’s capital, as the Caps once again feature a potent attack. Ovechkin sports 41 points in 40 games played, while Kuznetsov is right on his heels at 39. Currently averaging a shade over three goals per game as a team, the Caps may not have quite the same depth as they presented in the past few seasons, but contributions from T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson, Lars Eller, as well as defenseman John Carlson have provided more than enough offense to supplement.

Meanwhile, Braden Holtby continues to be one of the top netminders in the game, as his .918 save percentage in 30 starts has been more than adequate to win games. While his teammates on the blueline have not necessarily suppressed the volume of shots (Washington allows the ninth most in the NHL), they have mostly done a good job of limiting grade-A chances that lead more directly to goals.

While typically the Caps have been a dangerous team on the power play, mostly with Ovechkin primed for a one-timer near the right circle, they have not been especially potent this season as they sit squarely in the middle of the league at 19.51% on the man advantage, although they have converted on the power play in each of their previous two games. Keeping the potentially resurgent Caps’ power play off the ice will be a key to victory tonight.

What to Watch For

  • Cam Ward is likely back in net for Carolina as he looks to extend his own personal wins streak to seven as well.
  • The Caps are middle of the pack on the penalty kill, but they also have provided the ninth-most power play opportunities. Getting on the man advantage and converting would go a long way towards earning a big division win for Carolina.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Thursday, 7:00 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena

Pittsburgh Penguins v Detroit Red Wings

The Canes will head to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins less than a week after defeating them at home in a hard-fought 2-1 thriller on Friday night. See last week’s report for more general information regarding the Pens.

Not to in anyway detract from the momentous Canes win last week, but undeniably, an important factor in Friday’s tilt was the rash of injuries that the Pens faced. With Matt Murray, all-world defenseman Kris Letang, and Bryan Rust among the inactives, the Pens were certainly a diminished version of themselves during that contest. It remains to be seen if all or some of these players return (Murray should be available) for Thursday’s rematch, but it is safe to say it will take an even bigger effort from Carolina to duplicate their win on the road in Pittsburgh.

One interesting note from Friday’s game was the combining of the Pens top players at times. Typically, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel are placed on separate lines to increase the depth of the Pens attack during five-on-five play. During parts of the game Friday, however, Kessel spent time on both Crosby’s and then Malkin’s line to try to generate more chances. At home, with last change so that Crosby may be able to see a little bit less of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, do the Pens continue that trend?

What to Watch For

  • As mentioned, the line combos deployed by the Pens will be something to watch. Do they try to move some of their top weapons around to generate more chances or roll them out over three lines?
  • Carolina continues to show an improved penalty kill, including against the Pens on Friday. Does that continue in Pittsburgh, where there will undoubtedly be a questionable minor or two called?

Boston Bruins

Saturday, 7:00 p.m. at TD Garden

NHL: DEC 30 Bruins at Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In a season with much uncertainty leading into it, the Boston Bruins have positioned themselves in a comfortable spot in the Atlantic Division with a 21-10-6 record that is good for a tie for second in the division. Following a somewhat sluggish start, the Bruins have reeled off an impressive 15-3-2 stretch dating back to November 16th. The two catalysts for that resurgence has been a balanced and steady offensive attack and world-class goaltending from not only starting netminder Tuukka Rask, but also former Hurricane Anton Khudobin, who have each posted a sparkling .923 save percentage on the season.

While old guard performers such as Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Torey Krug have all been major parts of the success, the depth that has now been created with influx of young talent in Beantown cannot be denied. While 21-year-old David Pastrnak may be familiar to most, his team leading 34 points show he has taken his game to a higher level, while the additions of 22-year-old Danton Heinen (26 points), 20-year-old defenseman Charlie McAvoy (20 points), and 21-year-old winger Jake DeBrusk (19 points) have greatly impacted the Bruins’ success. A speedier, quicker group has joined with the banging, tougher older talent to provide as interesting blend of styles for head coach Bruce Cassidy in hist first full season behind the Boston bench.

In order to beat these Bruins, the Canes must play a tight, disciplined game, as the Bruins boost not only a top-10 power play (21.14%), but also are once again a top-five penalty kill. Sloppy play gets punished against the Bruins, so grinding out the game with five-on-five hockey is the route for the Canes. And when they get their opportunities to score, they’d best convert, because even though the Bruins are strong in net, they have also allowed the second-fewest shots in the NHL, yielding fewer than 30 per game.

What to Watch For

  • In the past, the Canes have actually struggled with the size of the Bruins as much as anything, as they have not consistently gotten to the front of the net. This has improved recently, and must be maintained against the Bruins.
  • Will this be the next opportunity for Scott Darling to get back in net? While the Canes lost in St. Louis on Saturday, Darling was at least decent. The outcome of the games on Tuesday and Thursday may play a key role in when he sees the net next.