On paper, the Monday night preseason game between the Capitals and the Bruins in Boston was a mismatch. The Caps dressed four defensemen who have never played in an NHL preseason game, and the two experienced blueliners they brought to Beantown have combined for fewer than 400 games in the league. Washington also left its top forward line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin back in the District.
The Bruins dressed their top line, their third line and two-thirds of their fourth line. Boston also dressed four of its top six defensemen, including the top twosome of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.
That Washington was able to escape the evening on the short end of a 3-2 overtime loss has to qualify as a victory of sorts, given the respective lineup circumstances.
In the first period, the Caps held their own despite a 9-2 disparity in shots on goal. The Caps actually edged the Bruins in even-strength shot attempts by a 12-11 count in the game’s first 20 minutes, and the contest was scoreless at that juncture.
But Washington was especially woeful at managing and moving the puck from its own end in the second period. The defensemen weren’t solely responsible, either. The Caps’ forwards were also guilty of putting clearing passes right on the tape of Bruins players, keeping the Caps hemmed in their own end for extended periods and putting Washington goaltender Braden Holtby under siege.
Boston was all over the Caps in the middle frame, and only some stellar goaltending from Holtby kept the game scoreless past the midpoint of the period.
Until rookie defenseman Connor Carrick pounded a center point bullet past Boston netminder Tuukka Rask at 11:16 of the second period, the Capitals had fewer shots on goal (two) in the game than fights (three).
Carrick’s power-play goal came just 16 seconds after Boston was penalized for having two many men on the ice. It was Washington’s third shot on net of the game and its first shot on goal in a span of 18:28. The Capitals went 12:39 between their first and second shots on net in Monday’s game.
When Brooks Laich finally registered Washington’s fourth shot on goal of the night at 16:20 of the second, it also marked the first shot on goal by a Capitals forward in a span of 36:11.
The Capitals were less than disciplined; they engaged in five separate fights and were shorthanded on six occasions. Two of those were their own doing; the Caps were whistled for a pair of bench minors for having too many men on the ice. The second of those infractions came at 17:53 of the third, and Boston’s Chara needed less than 30 seconds of that Bruins power play to notch the equalizer.
A mere 11 seconds into the final frame, the Caps got into some gruesome penalty trouble after a pair of fights broke out simultaneously. Caps defenseman Michal Cajkowski squared off with Boston’s Nick Johnson with Washington’s Dane Byers dropped the gloves to fight the Bruins’ Adam McQuaid. But Cajkowski also was assessed a minor for roughing and Byers incurred a deuce for instigating, putting the Caps down two men for a full two minutes.
The Bruins needed just 11 seconds of that time to take the lead. It was Chara again with a slapper from the point to put the B’s up 2-1 in the first minute of the third.
Washington pulled even at 6:38 of the third. Mikhail Grabovski passed to Nate Schmidt who cruised in patiently from the point and then threaded the puck back to the far side for a Martin Erat tap-in that made it a 2-2 game.
The Caps nursed the game into overtime only to fall when Bruins center Chris Kelly was able to poke a pin-balling rebound behind Holtby for the win.
Although the undermanned Caps were outshot 38-14 on the night, they held their own with help from Holtby. Pitching four young and green blueliners into the Bruins’ den gave the Caps’ brass a good chance to see what the kids were made of.
“It’s a very tough situation,” admits Caps coach Adam Oates. “You’re throwing them into the lion’s den. It’s a tough building. Obviously, the shots dictated that. It can be overwhelming.
“That’s a very good hockey team over there. They have been for a few years. They’re one of the best and they show why every night. They’re relentless, they’re big and they’re strong. And the guys did a good job, doing their best to handle it.”
Shooting Gallery – In his third outing of the preseason and his first full game, Holtby was very good. And he had to be. Boston outshot the Capitals 38-14 and had 64 shot attempts to just 33 for Washington.
“Those young guys get to play some big minutes in an exhibition game,” says Holtby of his defensemen, “which is good for them. I thought we battled hard to stay in it. I thought we did as good a job as we could. [The Bruins] obviously outnumbered us in experience. Especially on our back end, we did a very good job of competing and handling the pressure.”
Holtby has never been shy about facing down a lot of shots; he doesn’t mind seeing action in his end. That’s particularly true when it’s a preseason game and you’re trying to get ready for the regular season.
“It’s much better,” says Holtby of his heavy workload. “I kind of felt bad for [Boston goalie] Tuukka [Rask] down there, actually. He was kind of getting a little bored at times. It’s good in preseason; you want to get action and you want to get back into it. Unfortunately, we lost but we can take a lot of good things out of this.”
“Good effort,” says Oates of his netminder. “I thought Holts played great. He was a little unlucky on the winner, but he played a great game.”
The Capitals are now 2-0-3 on the postseason, with their three losses coming in their last three games. Next up is Nashville; the Preds visit Verizon Center on Wednesday night.
Black Ink And A Red Light – The 19-year-old Carrick signed his three-year entry-level contract with the Caps just prior to the team’s departure from Dulles to Boston for Monday’s game. Then he netted his first pro goal of any kind in the second period.
No matter how long Carrick’s career lasts, he’ll certainly remember Monday’s events.
“It was a pretty good day to be me,” admits Carrick. “I was pretty happy out there after I got the first goal and Grabovski made a nice pass and I happened to beat the goalie because of a nice screen.”
Carrick logged 26:15 in ice time and was solid all night under difficult and trying circumstances.
“I think anytime you score, you obviously feel better,” notes Oates. “First time in Boston at the Garden he scores a goal. He actually I thought played a very good hockey game.
“He has impressed us throughout the summer and done a good job. He played good tonight, and not every game is going to be that good for him. But it’s a great sign and he’s playing very well.”
All Lined Up – Monday’s game marked the debut of what could be the Caps’ second line when the season opens next Tuesday night in Chicago. Brooks Laich and Mikhail Grabovski both saw their first action of the preseason. They skated with right wing Troy Brouwer, who had played with rookies Nathan Walker and Chandler Stephenson in his first two outings of the preseason.
Laich led all Caps’ forwards in ice time with an even 20 minutes, and Grabovski was second at 19:15. Grabovski assisted on both Washington goals and Brouwer also collected a helper.
“Not bad,” was Oates’ assessment of his new line’s performance. “I thought at times they made good plays and at times they looked a little rusty; conditioning, etcetera. But all in all, not bad.”
Monday Night At The Fights – Monday’s game featured five bouts, but the main event proved to be a heavyweight duel between the Capitals’ Joel Rechlicz and Boston’s Milan Lucic in the first period.
The two big wingers went toe to toe and each threw and received many punches with no evidence of wilting.
Rechlicz also fought Johnny Boychuk in the second period, and the night’s first scrap featured Aaron Volpatti and Boston’s Kevan Miller.
Power Source – The Caps have scored a power play goal in four of their five preseason games and are 4-for-18 (22.2%) during the exhibition season.
First Blood – The Caps scored on their first shot on goal of both the second and third periods. They narrowly missed netting a goal on their first shot in the first frame too. That occurred when Michael Latta fed Dane Byers driving to the net at the nine-second mark of the period. Rask had to make one of his best stops of the night while the echoes of the national anthem were still wafting through the rafters.
Working Overtime – Monday’s game was Washington’s fifth during this preseason. The next one to conclude in 60 minutes will be the first one, but at least the Caps were able to avoid a fifth straight shootout in Monday’s contest.