The Boston Bruins (5-1-1, 11 pts) will face their former and longtime captain Zdeno Chara and the Washington Capitals (5-0-3, 13 pts) Saturday night in the first of a two-game set with the first place Capitals in Washington DC.
This is the first of eight meetings against Chara and the Bruins’ new East Division rivals and no one is denying it’s going to be strange to face the 6-foot-9, 250-pound rearguard who patrolled the Boston Bruins blue line and served as a bodyguard for his teammates during 14 seasons in Boston.
“It’s going to be weird playing against him, there’s no question,” Bruins winger Brad Marchand said Thursday. “But I think it’s going to make him compete harder against us. He’s going to have something to prove or he’s going to want to make sure he doesn’t treat us as friends, he treats us as competitors.”
Marchand made it clear his chirping game will go silent when he’s on the ice as an opponent of Chara for the first time in his career.
“No. You don’t want to poke the bear,” Marchand quipped.
The other big storyline heading into this East Division tilt will be the expected return of David Pastrnak who has not played a game this season thanks to offseason hip surgery. Pastrnak, who – along with Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin, won the 2020 Rocket Richard Trophy – is excited to finally be healthy and ready to play.
“I feel great. It’s been a long road and a lot of practices are behind me. I feel ready. I feel 100 percent. We’ll see what happens tomorrow, but I’m pretty sure I’m ready,” said Pastrnak, who said the hip issue had been bothering him for about a year before he had surgery. “The most important thing for me is that I’m pain-free now and I feel great skating.”
The Bruins are riding a four-game win streak and the Capitals bring in a two-game streak.
Tuukka Rask (3-1-0, 2.13 GAA, .905 save percentage) is expected to be back between the pipes after not dressing for the Bruins’ 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday.
– Pastrnak’s Perfection Line linemates have been on fire in his absence. Marchand has two goals and an assist Saturday. Marchand is riding a four-game point streak (3g, 4a) and leads the team in assists with six helpers and points with ten. After a two-goal game in the win over the Penguins Thursday, Patrice Bergeron has two multi-goal games and leads the team with five goals.
– After failing to score at even strength in their first three games, the Boston Bruins now have nine 5-on-5 goals in their last four games. They’re also getting the depth scoring they were concerned about coming into the season and through those first three games. With a turnstile of wings thanks to injuries, David Krejci has still set up five goals in the No. 2 center slot and Charlie Coyle is getting hot in the three slot with two goals and two assists. Nick Ritchie (3g, 3a) and Craig Smith (2g, 2a) are providing offense on Coyle’s or anyone’s wings.
– The Bruins went 1-for-2 on the powerplay Thursday and are now 8-for-22 on the man advantage with a third-best in the league, 36.4 success rate. The Bruins penalty kill killed off all three Penguins powerplays and has been brilliant allowing just two powerplay goals 31 attempts against for a league-best 93.1 success rate.
– Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (lower-body) will be a game-time decision after leaving the game early again Thursday. Grzelcyk missed Tuesday’s game against the Penguins with a separate lower-body injury than the one he suffered on Thursday. Boston Bruins rookie winger Jack Studnicka will also be a game-time decision after getting banged up on a hit in the second period Thursday. Forward Jake DeBrusk is likely to miss his second straight game. Boston Bruins forward Ondrej Kase (upper-body) is out indefinitely. Defenseman John Moore (upper-body) was placed on injured reserve retroactive to January 19.
– After scoring his first goal in a Capitals uniform Thursday in a game that saw the Capitals erase a three-goal deficit and beat the New York Islanders 6-3, Chara was mobbed by his teammates on the Capitals bench and was emotional discussing that and the way the Capitals have made him feel at home.
“Obviously, very excited that I get first goal as a member of Washington Capitals,” Chara said. “I turned to the guys at the bench right away. I just wanted to share that joy and excitement with them since they’ve done a really amazing job welcoming me and making that transition as easy and simple as possible for me. So I owe it to them and can’t thank them enough to accept me in the group and welcome me like they did. It’s a great group of guys. We’re having fun. We’re working hard and we’re pushing each other to be better. That’s what it’s all about.”
-Alexander Ovechkin and defenseman Dmitry Orlov return to the lineup tonight after missing four games on the COVID List. The Capitals have been missing Ovechkin, winger Evgeny Kuznetsov, Orlov, and goalie Ilya Samsonov after they broke COVID Protocol two weeks ago. Samsonov and Kuznetsov remain in quarantine. Amazingly, the Capitals still haven’t lost a game in regulation with all that skill out of the lineup.
– Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom leads the team in goals (4), assists (6), and in points with ten. Backstrom has a four-game point streak going with two goals and four assists over that span. 2020 Norris Trophy finalist John Carlson is tied with Backstrom in assists and has three goals. His nine points are second only to Backstrom and the best on the Capitals blue line.
– The Capitals are 7-for-17 on the powerplay. Their 41.2 percent success rate is third-best in the league. The Caps’ penalty kill has not been that good, allowing seven goals on 29 attempts against with a success rate ranked 20th in the NHL at 75.9 percent.
– In addition to Kuznetsov and Samsonov, forward Lars Eller (upper-body), forward Brian Pinho (undisclosed), and defenseman Justin Schultz (undisclosed) are day-to-day. Beck Malenstyn and Michal Kempny are out indefinitely with Achilles injuries and goalie Henrik Lundqvist thankfully had successful open-heart surgery and is out for the season.
Boston Bruins Lines
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Davis Pastrnak
Nick Ritchie – David Krejci – Karson Kuhlman
Trent Frederic – Charlie Coyle – Craig Smith
Anders Bjork – Sean Kuraly – Chris Wagner
Jeremy Lauzon – Charlie McAvoy
Connor Clifton – Brandon Carlo
Jakub Zboril – Kevan Miller
Washington Capitals Lines
*Tentative lines from morning skate
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Alex Ovechkin – T.J. Oshie – Richard Panik
Carl Hagelin – Nic Dowd – Garnet Hathaway
Conor Sheary – Michael Sgarbossa – Daniel Sprong
Zdeno Chara – John Carlson
Brenden Dillon – Trevor van Riemsdyk
Jonas Sieganthaler – Nick Jensen