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The one thing the Capitals have to do to stop the Bruins originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
It might seem too much of a compliment to give any group in sports the nickname, “perfection.” But if there had to be a line worthy of such a nickname in the NHL, fans and pundits have already decided it would be the Bruins’ top line.
The Bruins’ trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, nicknamed “The Perfection Line,” make up the best top line in hockey and it’s up to the Capitals to somehow find a way to defend them. For how dominant they’ve been, especially against the Capitals, merely slowing them down to non-perfection levels would suffice.
As the Capitals and Bruins head toward Game One on Saturday night (coverage starts at 6 on NBC Sports Washington), there’s clearly going to be an effort from the Capitals to throw whatever they can at stopping perfection. But it’s going to be a mighty tall order.
“Obviously three elite players and they’ve played together for a long time,” center Nic Dowd said. “The benefit is we’ve played against them a lot this year. And I think a seven-game series, like (coach Peter Laviolette) says all the time, it’s not about as much as you get out there against guys like that, it’s sometimes more about what you leave. Whoever is matched up against them at the time, it’s going to be a big task.”
The Bruins’ top line has plagued not only the rest of the league, but the Capitals specifically over seven games this season. They outscored them 9-3 and outshot them 45-19. The scoring chances favored the Bruins 33-17 and the high-danger chances 15-5 when they were on the ice.
They shot a ridiculous 20 percent as a line against the Capitals this season, but with just an .842 save percentage behind them, it’s not unreasonable to assume the goal differential could have been worse.
Still, those numbers weren’t just related to the Capitals as “The Perfection Line” outshot all opponents 315-151 (a 67.6 percent shot share) and outscored their opponents nearly two to one (33-17) this season. They’ve been dominant in shot quantity, shot quality and pretty much everywhere else on the ice. Their defense hasn’t been an issue, not only because Bergeron is one of the best two-way players in the sport, but because they simply haven’t had to play much defense at all.
Marchand led the Bruins with 69 points (29 goals), while Bergeron followed with 48 points (23 goals), who was followed by Pastrnak with 48 points (20 goals).
Their stats aren’t simply of usage, either, as just 233 of their 543 faceoffs this season came in the offensive zone. That shows they’re not simply winning faceoffs and controlling the puck, they’ve been elite at acquiring the puck in the neutral zone or defensive end and turning that into offense.
Meaning, it’s up to Laviolette and the Capitals to get their preferred matchups on the ice as much as possible against the trio and do whatever they can to keep them off the scoresheet.
“They’re a good line, they’ve got a lot of chemistry, they’ve played together for quite a bit,” Laviolette said. “You always talk about players, you always talk about line combinations that have done some good things through the course of the year, or against you. When you’re at home, you can control matchups a little bit easier. Those are the things we’ll try to do.”
As for his options to try and contain the Bruins’ scorers, there are a few lines and pairings he could send out, but the options aren’t great. That top-line hemmed pretty much every line and pairing from the Capitals in their own zone this season.
The Capitals could opt to go power-for-power and trot out the Alex Ovechkin line and create some offense of their own, or they could elect to send out the more defensively responsible fourth line of Dowd, Carl Hagelin and Garnet Hathaway and try to slow their offense down. Either way, there’s a risk involved.
“It’s a dangerous line, it’s a line that’s been effective through the course of time and certainly against us,” Laviolette said. “It’s a challenge for us to make sure we’re doing the right things against them.”
If the Bruins’ top line outscores the Capitals 9-3 once again in the playoffs, then the rest of the Capitals’ lineup will have to make up the difference on the powerplay and against the other three lines from the Bruins.
That’s certainly easier said than done, as the addition of Taylor Hall at the trade deadline has given the Bruins a legitimate second line that can put the puck in the net.
Of course, the Capitals have their own scoring talent and depth that has the Bruins in a similar conversation of how to slow down Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and the like. But it’s clear the Bruins’ trio is far more influential to their success.
Even if it’s not shutdown per se, the Capitals will surely take any break they can get in doing whatever, however possible, to make “The Perfection Line” as imperfect as possible.
“They have a lot of chemistry, they’ve played together over a lot of games in a lot of years and had great success,” defenseman John Carlson said. “I think they all kind of bring something different to the table and they’re good enough to do everyone else’s job as well. They’re a dangerous line, they have been since they’ve been put together. We know that it’s going to be a big test for us and a big part of the series.”