BOSTON – For the second time in as many nights the Capitals got off to a slow start, recording just eight shots in the first 40 minutes this time on their way to a 3-0 loss against the Bruins. While the numbers were the same in the first two periods it looked worse in Boston, where the Capitals rarely controlled the puck long enough to do anything other than scramble for a line change.
Five thoughts on the loss to the Bruins.
1. Holtby: In the combined 91 minutes 24 seconds Braden Holtby was in the net against Wednesday and Thursday against the Flyers and Bruins, respectively, the Capitals were outshot 61-20. While Holtby wasn’t thrilled with his performance in Philadelphia – though Coach Adam Oates didn’t fault him for any of the four goals he allowed there – he came through with a strong outing against the Bruins.
He held Washington in the first period, when it was outshot 10-4 and out-attempted 23-9 Boston’s first goal was a deflection on a delayed penalty call, but Holtby said he would have liked to have played the second one better.
“I think the original shot [by Matt Bartkowski] to the left side would have went wide if I wouldn’t have kicked and gave the rebound right to him,” Holtby said. “Then I got in to a little bit of panic mode and tried to get across to the wrap-around. They threw it in front and [Loui Eriksson] had some time to put it away. Probably two things there that I’d like to do better. I don’t know if I still would have stopped it.”
His self-evaluation is certainly valid, but so is the fact that defenseman Connor Carrick was a step behind Carl Soderberg as he wrapped around the net and Eric Fehr lost Eriksson in front. Roll all the mistakes together, and the Bruins had a 2-0 lead.
Boston continued to push, but Holtby kept the Capitals within two, finishing with 40 saves before Brad Marchand made it 3-0 on an empty netter.
“He was unbelievable,” Karl Alzner said of Holtby. “Game probably could have been 8-0 and he kept it to 2-0.”
While he and the Capitals could have benefited from more time in the opposite end of the ice Thursday, Holtby shrugged off the lack of balance in the team’s game.
“You play a position that you’re a big part of the team, and in order to play that, you have to have the mentality that you want to steal a game once in awhile for your team,” Holtby said. “Sooner or later I’m going to have to do that. A goalie can’t rely on offense, you have no control of that. You control your game and what you can contribute to the team.”
2. Trapped in the D-zone: One of the Capitals’ biggest weaknesses all season has been the ability to clear the puck out of their end consistently – or at all. The Bruins excel at hemming teams in the defensive zone and exploited Washington’s vulnerability.
Seemingly multiple times every shift, the Capitals thought they had a clean route out of the zone or a chance to chip the puck off the boards and out, only to watch the Bruins snare the puck to reverse the play back toward Holtby. Boston would send the puck around like a pinball machine, offering support to players who had forced a turnover to keep the possession alive.
“It was tough sledding tonight no question,” Oates said. “We weren’t clean; we had some tired guys, a couple sick guys. They 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 too many times and they just picked us apart coming up ice, but I think that’s just a product of fatigue.”
3. No forecheck: When the Capitals did move the puck out of their zone, the plays pretty much fizzled. In the first period the only line to consistently play in the Bruins’ end was the fourth unit of Ryan Stoa, Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson and as the game went on Oates rotated them through shifts with numerous other combinations because they appeared to have the most energy.
As the previous quote from Oates mentions, far too many times Washington placed its dump-ins to a place where Tuukka Rask could easily gain control of the puck ahead of the would-be forecheck and send it to his teammates to start a breakout for the Bruins.
“This is one of the teams we play that breaks the puck out and doesn’t let us get in on a good forecheck,” Troy Brouwer said. “We had some dumps that got 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. Those are things that we got to clean up.”
It also worked to demoralize an already beleaguered group.
“We got out occasionally but we didn’t do anything with it,” Alzner said. “We didn’t have the greatest dumps; our forecheck wasn’t the greatest; we didn’t get enough pucks in. So when they hemmed us in, it made it that much worse because we didn’t get anything once we finally did get out.”
4. Puck movers: The last two points — the Capitals’ inability to break out of their zone or get much going on the other end — have been made worse in recent games by the absence of Mikhail Grabovski (sprained left ankle) and Dmitry Orlov (suspended).
Both look to carry the puck up the ice when they can, allowing for smoother transitions and extended possession rather than having to dump and chase. Others who fall in that category for Washington — Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom come to mind — were largely invisible and ineffective against the Bruins. While the Capitals want to establish an aggressive forecheck and can be successful when they do, they need to at least occasionally carry the puck in to give themselves a fighting chance of maintaining possession, especially when the forecheck struggles as it did Thursday.
5. Season low: For a micro look at the Capitals’ lack of offense, Alex Ovechkin recorded a season-low one shot on goal last night. He has been held to two in four games this year but never less. Considering that Ovechkin leads the league in shots with 322 — 80 more than the next closest players Phil Kessel and Patrick Sharp who are tied with 242 — seeing him outshot by Cameron Schilling in a game is odd at the very least.