Five nights after the Capitals earned a 4-2 win over the Bruins in Boston last Saturday, Washington returned to the scene Beantown. But this time around, it was all Boston. The Bruins outplayed the Caps handily and skated off with a 3-0 victory on Thursday night at TD Garden.
“It was tough sledding tonight, no question,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “We weren’t clean. We had some tired guys, a couple of sick guys. [The Bruins are] very good in the neutral zone at not giving you anything. And really what we did wrong was we gave it to the goalie [on dump-ins] too many times and they just picked us apart coming up the ice. But I think that’s just a product of fatigue.”
The loss was the third in succession for the Capitals, and those three losses immediately follow a modest four-game winning streak, matching the team’s longest of the season.
Washington survived a first period in which it rarely possessed the puck, a common thread for the remainder of the game. The Caps were in their own end for most of the frame; Boston’s diligent forecheck and the Capitals’ inability to break the puck out cleanly were about equally responsible for the Bruins’ ongoing residence near the Washington net.
Caps goaltender Braden Holtby – who was pulled a night earlier in Philadelphia after allowing four goals on 18 shots in about 32 minutes of work – was sharp throughout the night and he needed to be. It was the Bruins who were creating the Grade A chances.
After the scoreless first, the Caps weren’t able to contain the Bruins for very long in the second. With Washington about to be penalized and the Bruins having an extra attacker on the ice, Boston defender Matt Bartkowski reversed the puck back to Patrice Bergeron at the left point. Bergeron wound up and fired, and Gregory Campbell – stationed just off the paint near the left post – deflected the puck past Holtby for a 1-0 Bruins lead at 3:05 of the second.
Coming into the game, the Bruins owned a 29-5-1 record in games in which they’ve scored the first goal, so Campbell’s tally had ominous implications for the Capitals.
It wouldn’t be necessary, but the Bruins added a second strike about five minutes after Campbell’s lamplighter. Boston won an offensive zone draw, and defenseman Kevan Miller fired a shot from the right point. Holtby made a left pad stop, but Carl Soderberg collected the rebound and curled around the back of the net. He fed Loui Eriksson, and Eriksson had enough time and space to roof a quick wrist shot over Holtby’s right shoulder for a 2-0 Bruins advantage at 8:20 of the second period.
Holtby is arguably his own harshest critic. He feels that only better luck wuld have helped on Campbell’s goal, but believed he could have been better on Eriksson’s tally.
“The first one, there’s not much you can do,” says Holtby. “It’s a deflection and you never really know where it’s going to go.
‘The second one, I think the original shot to the left side would have gone wide if I wouldn’t have kicked it, and I gave the rebound right to him. Then I got in a little bit of panic mode and tried to get across for the wraparound and he threw it in front and the guy had some time to put it away. There were probably two things there that I would like to do better, but I don’t know if I would have stopped it.”
Meanwhile, Washington’s own offensive attack remained less than listless. Over a span of 16:21 from late in the first period to the middle of the second, the Caps were outshot by a lopsided 15-2 and Boston had 20 shot attempts to just four for Washington.
“We didn’t get enough pucks to the net,” laments Washington right wing Troy Brouwer. “We didn’t sustain enough in the offensive zone. This is one of the best teams we play that breaks the puck out and doesn’t let us get in on a good forecheck. We had some dumps get to their goalie and as a result they were able to get out clean and trap a few of our guys for odd-man rushes, and those are things that we need to clean up.”
Few of the Caps’ rare chances were very memorable or threatening. Caps captain Alex Ovechkin missed on a good chance in the third and Boston goalie Tuukka Rask needed to make a good save on a shot from the slot off the stick of Washington rookie Chris Brown early in the final frame.
Aside from that, Rask barely broke a sweat. Although he recorded his sixth shutout of the season, Rask needed to make only 16 stops in 60 minutes. His performance wasn’t deemed worthy of one of the game’s three stars.
Holtby, on the other hand, made 40 stops and was the third star of the evening. He faced more shots in the second period (17) than Rask faced in the entire game.
Ovechkin’s lone shot on goal in the game came in the first period; he missed the net once in the second and again in the third. Forwards Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera and defensemen Karl Alzner and Cameron Schilling each had two shots on net in the game, and no Capital had more. That quartet accounted for half of Washington’s total on the night.
Proper credit must also be given to the Bruins, who were a much stingier and more stifling bunch on Thursday than they were on Saturday when the Caps dented them for four goals.
“They play very tight,” says Brouwer. “They’re real good defensively and in good defensive position and they don’t give you a lot of opportunities to create cycles and create seam passes, and find open guys. They play a little bit lower than most teams and give up point shots. So early on we were getting pucks to the point and getting point shots, but not a lot were getting through. And then when they did [get through], we were not winning those one-on-one battles to get pucks back to create second opportunities.”
Even though the game wasn’t truly out of reach until Boston’s Brad Marchand potted an empty-netter to account for the 3-0 final score with 1:34 remaining, there was never any palpable sense that the Caps were on the verge of threatening to light the lamp. Often, there wasn’t even a palpable sense that the Capitals were threatening to shoot the puck in the vague and general direction of the Boston net. From 10:33 of the third period to 16:23 of the third period, the Caps went 5:50 without even directing a shot towards Rask.
Boston finished the game with 67 shot attempts to just 32 for the Capitals. The Bruins led 23-9 in the first period, 20-9 in the second and 24-14 in the third period in shot attempts. For the second straight game, the Capitals were able to muster only eight shots on net over the first 40 minutes of the contest.
“It was obviously a tough game,” reiterates Oates. “[It was the second of games on] back-to-back [nights], [the Bruins] were waiting, second [game] in five days here and we beat them last time.
“They’re a very stingy defensive team. It was 0-0 after the first. Holts gave us a chance. We made a mistake on the first goal. But at the start of the third period, you know what? If Ovi scores that one, it’s a ballgame.
“When you approach this team, we’ve talked about it a lot. You’ve got to be willing to win 1-0. And it’s 2-0 with two minutes to go. So you’re still in the game. I know you don’t have enough shots [on goal]. But after the first period most of their chances were [from the] perimeter. We were a little tired. We just needed that one spark and we didn’t get it.”
Lone Star Debut – Two nights after he was acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes in a trade for veteran left wing Martin Erat, 23-year-old forward Chris Brown made his debut in a Caps sweater, sporting the number 67. Brown is the first player ever to be adorned with that number.
“We didn’t win the game,” says Brown of his first game with Washington. “Obviously it’s a team effort out there. I felt we left Holtby out to dry a couple of times.”
Brown started the game on he left side of a line with Fehr and Joel Ward. He also skated with Tom Wilson and Ryan Stoa. He logged 12:16 on the night and was credited with one shot on net and one hit.
“Overall I thought I had a pretty good game,” says Brown. “It was nice to have Wardo, Fehrsie, Tom and Stoa to help me out and keep me in check. Everyone was talking to me, so I felt comfortable.”
A native of Flower Mound, Tex., Brown is just the fifth Texas native ever to play in the NHL and the first ever to play for the Capitals.
The Spell Is Broken – Holtby was excellent in goal for Washington on Thursday, but it wasn’t enough to keep him from suffering his first career regular season loss to the Bruins.
Even after Wednesday’s loss, Holtby is now 4-1 with a 2.13 GAA and a .940 save pct. in five career appearances (four starts) during his career against the Bruins.
Road Blank – Thursday night’s whitewashing at the hands of the Bruins in Boston was the first shutout loss suffered by the Capitals on the road in more than two years.
The last time Washington failed to score a goal in a road contest was in a 5-0 loss to the Hurricanes in Carolina on Feb. 20, 2012 against Canes goalie Justin Peters.
The blanking was the first absorbed by the Capitals in Boston since Tim Thomas turned the trick in a 2-0 Caps loss in Beantown on Jan. 3, 2008.
Holtby Speaks – His postgame media scrum was the first time that Holtby spoke to the media since the NHL’s Wednesday trade deadline. Holtby’s longtime goaltending partner Michal Neuvirth was dealt to Buffalo in exchange for veteran goalkeeper Jaroslav Halak just before the deadline passed.
“There are obviously mixed emotions because I’ve played a long time with Michal in the minors and in the NHL,” says Holtby. “We’ve spent a lot of time together. But it’s great for him because he is going to get an opportunity to show what he can do, because he is an outstanding goalie. We bring in a very good, proven goalie [in Halak] who can help our team. I’ve only known him for one day, but he seems like he’s a very team-oriented guy and that’s what we need around here.
“We have the same goal in mind; we want to contribute to the Capitals. I’m looking forward to it in a way because there are a lot of things that he has done in his career to get to where he is. I’m looking forward to learning from that and being his teammate.”
By The Numbers – Mike Green paced the Capitals with 25:41 in ice time … Dustin Penner, Jack Hillen and Jay Beagle led the way with three hits each … Every Boston skater logged at least 11:20 in the game and none logged more than Johnny Boychuk’s 21:52 … Bergeron led the Bruins with eight shots on net … Bartkowski was the only Boston skater without a shot on goal on the night.