Bruins go with no fixed pairs on blue line;Chara expected to see loads of ice time vs. Capitals
WILMINGTON - Except for when they're overwhelmed by the temptation to play as individuals, the only real way to beat the Washington Capitals is through teamwork.
The Boston Bruins believe their team game is ready for last season's NHL regular-season champions, whom they'll meet tonight at the Verizon Center, and again Thursday night in their long-time-coming home opener at TD Garden.
Things may occasionally look a little disorganized, though, especially on Boston's blue line. If so, it could well be by design: The Bruins currently aren't married to three established defense pairs with defined roles.
"We don't really have a set-up," coach Claude Julien said after Monday's practice. "We really have been mixing our 'D' pairs. Right now, that's the way we like it."
Julien suggested before the season began that the Bruins' defense tandems could be fluid, depending on their opponent. More specifically, the coach said there might be times when captain Zdeno Chara would anchor a designated shut-down pairing to stop the top line on a team without much scoring depth, and at other times, he'd spread the defensive wealth against teams with more offensive sources.
Three games into the season, Chara has spent most of his even-strength ice time with Johnny Boychuk, but he has also taken shifts with Andrew Ference and Matt Hunwick. Dennis Seidenberg and Mark Stuart have formed the second-most used pair (at least, since it was formed midway through the season's first game), but they, too, have formed combinations with other defensemen.
"We do have defensive pairs," said Chara, who can always be guaranteed of playing more than any Bruin, "but during the game, you almost always end up playing with everybody.
"We're pretty used to playing with each other on a regular basis. Even in practice, we have seven defensemen (Adam McQuaid has yet to play), and we just take turns and rotate. I think that's one of the things you can say is an advantage for this team: Anybody can play with anybody, on either side (of the ice), and against anybody from the opposite side."
In all likelihood, Julien will have Chara on the ice as much as possible against Alexander Ovechkin, Washington's energetic, physical scoring machine, who has been skating with center Nicklas Backstrom and former Bruins winger Mike Knuble. The B's need another effective pair to play against the talented line of Alexander Semin, Tomas Fleischmann and Brooks Laich.
"We'll see what happens," Boychuk said. "I'm sure we'll all be playing a lot. I think we can all handle those lines, when we're called upon."
All six of the blue-liners will have to be ready, because Julien is apt to form defense pairs based on how each defenseman is playing.
"Instead of having three pairs . you've seen different guys in different pairs," the coach said. "We like the way that's going. That allows us to have the best pairing possible when certain lines jump on the ice."
BRUINS UPDATE: They've won two straight and allowed only one goal since a 5-2 loss to Phoenix in the season opener. Tim Thomas has been in goal for the two wins, but as is his custom, Julien wouldn't name a goalie on Monday. Four Bruins - linemates Nathan Horton, David Krejci and Milan Lucic, plus Michael Ryder - have scored points in all three games.
CAPITALS UPDATE: They're 4-0 since a season-opening loss at Atlanta, and are 3-0 at home. Ovechkin leads with 4 goals and 8 points; D John Carlson is next on the scoring list at 1-5-6. Injured Ds Mike Green and Tom Poti, plus RW Matt Bradley, missed Saturday's 3-2, OT victory at Nashville, in which Semin's line scored twice in the third period to erase on 0-2 deficit. Rookie Michal Neuvirth (2.16 GAA, .930 saves percentage) has played all 5 games in goal.
LAST YEAR: Bruins went 1-2-1, including a 4-1 loss in the home/season opener. The B's were 1-0-1 in D.C., including a shootout victory in the season finale that locked up the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Backstrom led the series in scoring (1-6-7), followed by Ovechkin (3-3-6) and Laich (4 goals - 2 winners - and 6 points). Ryder and Patrice Bergeron scored 2 goals each for Boston.
Reach Mike Loftus at firstname.lastname@example.org Read more of his Bruins coverage on Blog of Ice at PatriotLedger.com/sports