WILMINGTON – Take a quick glance at the numbers and the question become obvious: Why is everyone so worried about the Washington Capitals?
|Alex Ovechkin finished the season strong with 12 goals in the last 19 games. (Getty)|
Once an unstoppable juggernaut, the Caps have transformed from a team that averaged an absurd, league-leading 3.82 goals-per-game back in 2009-10 to a club that’s slid back to the middle of the pack offensively in the last two seasons in an attempt to become more defensively responsible.
In doing so, their dynamite attack now looks considerably less daunting, but the Bruins are certainly wise enough to know they’re not in for a cakewalk when they take on Washington in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs.
“There’s never an easy opponent in the playoffs,” Zdeno Chara said. “You have to win four games and it’s never easy whoever you play. We just have to take it one game at a time and focus on that.”
The B’s behemoth captain will be tasked with shutting down the Capitals’ shining star, winger Alex Ovechkin. It’s a challenge Chara welcomes with open arms.
“It’s something that motivates me,” Chara said. “It’s something that I enjoy, competing against the best players. Obviously they have a few great players on that team. Sometimes the matchups are hard to get, especially on the road. When you do get them, you want to make the best of them.
“But overall, I like to compete and I like to work hard against whoever I’m playing against. They’re such a skilled and dangerous team that it won’t be only one guy you have to worry about. There’s going to be a number of players.”
Coach Claude Julien concurs with the d-man’s assessment.
“I think it’s pretty hard to deny that he’s (Oveckin) not going to play against our best players, but at the same time, I really feel that there’s a lot more than Ovechkin on that team and let’s not get caught up in looking at one player,” said Julien.
Count Nicklas Backstrom among the many threats the Caps have in their lineup. The center recently returned from a three-month-long absence (concussion) and finished the year on a high note with a goal and an assist against the Rangers in Washington’s regular season finale.
“Obviously he’s an extremely good player,” Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said of Backstrom, who has 17 points in 16 career games against Boston. “He has great vision and great play-making ability. It’s just another piece.”
Once positioned to play the Senators, a club with high-end talent but sub-par secondary scoring, the B’s will now have to deal with a deep Caps squad that can get offense from any one of their lines.
“Backstrom is back, (Alex) Semin can score; they’ve got some decent players,” said Julien. “Brooks Laich has been a good player for them as well and their back-end is very good at moving the puck up the ice and bringing that attack up. So there’s a lot of strength on that hockey club and I feel that that team is playing really well right now, so we’re going to be playing against a team that has a lot of confidence heading into the playoffs.”
Julien also believes the effort the Capitals – who won three of their four matchups with the Bruins this season -- have put into sharpening up in their own zone hasn’t been as widely heralded as it should be.
“They’re a team that’s very capable of playing solid two-way hockey. They’ve got their guys scoring and they’ve done a good job of defending as well,” Julien said. “They never got enough credit for how good their defensive game has gotten over the year and they’ve been a lot better at that.
“As we all know, they’ve given us some tough games. Maybe at times, we weren’t at our best. I know the first game in Washington we didn’t have a very good game there but lately the games that we’ve played against them they’ve been tight and they’ve been close, and they’ve been well-played.”
Given their recent history and Washington’s wealth of talent, don’t be surprised if the Bruins are in for another string of tightly-contested tilts with the Caps.