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This One Goes to Eleven

December 14, 2017
A little over seven years ago, Caps goalie Braden Holtby earned his first NHL victory in his first NHL appearance – a relief effort – defeating the Boston Bruins. Holtby has not stopped being a thorn in Boston’s side since, and he notched yet another win over the B’s on Thursday night in Boston, a 5-3 victory.

Thursday’s win is Washington’s 20 th of the season and Holtby’s 18 th, and it extends the Capitals’ winning streak over the Bruins to 11 straight games. Alex Chiasson scored twice in the third period, including what would prove to be the game-winner while the Caps were shorthanded. 

The Caps are capable of playing much better than they did on Thursday, but Holtby kept it tight until the Capitals could get on track offensively. Washington endured a difficult second period, spending most of the middle frame in its own end of the ice. Puck management wasn’t always up to par, either, as the Caps frequently turned it over high in their own zone.

“They play a tight system and they don’t give you a lot of space,” says Chiasson of the Bruins. “All these guys have a good work ethic. They skate hard, they’re first on the puck and that’s what the Bruins have been known as for the past couple of years. Obviously it was not the way we wanted to play the whole 60 minutes, but in this league some nights you have to find ways to win, and we did that tonight.”

Washington appeared to have taken an early 1-0 lead on a Lars Eller goal at 2:16 of the first, but the Bruins issued a coach’s challenge on the play, alleging offside. The challenge was successful, and the goal was wiped off the board.

Beneficiaries of each of the game’s first three power play opportunities in the first, the Caps weren’t able to tickle the twine on any of those opportunities. Both netminders were excellent in the first with Caps goalie Braden Holtby making strong stops on David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron while counterpart Anton Khudobin denied Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky in impressive fashion at the other end of the ice. 

Late in that first frame, the Caps were able to break through for a 1-0 lead. Matt Niskanen punched the puck out of the middle of the ice in Washington’s end, and Caps winger Jakub Vrana collected it in neutral ice. Vrana put on a burst through the neutral zone, and he blew past a trio of Bruins, driving the center lane. From the slot, he beat Khudobin with a wrist shot to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead at 17:34.

“I just tried to get lots of speed and saw the defense was kind of turning,” recounts Vrana, “so I just tried to take advantage of it, and tried to get a little breakaway there and thankfully it went in. I tried to shoot it high. I was happy with that one.”

Boston pulled even on a power play early in the second period. Patrice Bergeron scored for the Bruins, ripping a one-timer past Holtby at 4:22. Bergeron did great work just to pull the trigger as he was blanketed by a pair of Caps penalty killers.

The Bruins had a significant territorial and possession advantage in the middle frame, but Holtby made sure they never got a go-ahead goal. Washington didn’t record its first shot on net of the second until after the midpoint of the frame, and it went on a power play just after that midpoint.

With the man advantage for the fourth time on the night, Washington moved the puck crisply around the Boston end, and it was excellent on its puck retrievals. The last retrieval left most of the Caps out of their normal power play positions, but Washington managed to get the go-ahead goal anyway. 

From center point, Alex Ovechkin fed the puck down the right wing half wall to Evgeny Kuznetsov. Spotting Nicklas Backstrom at the top of the paint, Kuznetsov banked a sharp pass off Backstrom’s blade and into the net for a 2-1 Washington lead at 12:05 of the second.

Holtby enabled the Caps to preserve that slim lead with strong stops on both Danton Heinen and Matt Grzelcyk. Being able to take a one-goal lead into the third was a significant plus for the Caps after they were outshot 13-3 and out-attempted 28-8 in the middle 20 minutes. 

The Caps added an insurance goal a couple of minutes ahead of the midpoint of the third. On an offensive zone shift, the Capitals worked the puck efficiently around the perimeter. After taking a pass from defense partner John Carlson, Christian Djoos carried from the left point down low, looking for options. He waited patiently, then snapped a pass to the net front for Alex Chiasson. Khudobin stopped Chiasson, but the big winger bagged his own rebound to make it a 3-1 game at 7:52. 

When Brooks Orpik went off for interference at 11:19, the Bruins’ power play had an opportunity to climb back to within a goal. Instead, the Caps quickly added to their lead.

Chiasson blocked a Torey Krug shot up high in the Washington zone, and the puck caromed into neutral ice. Chiasson tore off on a breakaway, and beat Khudobin with a backhander just a dozen seconds after Orpik was seated in the box, pushing the Caps’ lead to 4-1 with 8:29 remaining.

Boston’s David Krejci scored with 3:40 left to make it 4-2, and the Bruins pulled Khudobin for an extra attacker soon afterwards. Trying to make a pass, Ovechkin instead banked the puck off the wall and into the vacated Bruins’ net to make it 5-2 at 18:31. 

A late Boston power play produced Bergeron’s second extra-man tally of the night, but the Caps had the two points safely secured by then.

“Braden made some excellent stops when the game was really close and then we were able to create some offense,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “The second goal was real big for me, when we got the power play goal, because we didn’t really generate a whole lot that period. I think they had 13 shots and we had three, and we come out of the period up a goal. So, I thought that was really huge and Braden was outstanding. I thought we had a lot of big blocks. I thought we had some really good sticks around our net.”

Washington also benefited from some favorable bounces, which tends to happen when one team seems to have another’s number for an extended period of time. Getting an early lead also helped the Caps against the B’s, who were playing for the second time in as many nights.

“They are good finishers over there,” says Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “They are good through the neutral zone. If there was an area of our game that needed to be better –especially early on – it was our neutral zone defense. I don’t think we gapped up well enough and I didn’t think we were able to kill their entries. It led to some pretty good chances.”

Holtby is now 13-2-0 lifetime against the Bruins during the regular season.

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