Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie immediately disputed the call, with the whistle halting the team’s power play at a most inopportune time. Oshie was sent to the penalty box for hooking Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara with less than seven minutes left in a one-goal game, and while this was one of Washington’s least-penalized outings of the season, the minor infractions and their consequences were ultimately the story.
The Capitals lost to the Bruins, 1-0, on Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena, snapping Washington’s 14-game winning streak against Boston that dated from March 2014. They remain tied with Pittsburgh for second place in the Metropolitan Division with 62 points through 52 games, and the loss was just the third time this season Washington has been shut out.
The Bruins didn’t give the Capitals much space, disrupting their offensive-zone entries for most of the game and limiting their quality chances. Coach Todd Reirden noted that while Washington got two goals from right in front of the net in its previous game, a 4-3 win Friday against Calgary, “We had to fight to get to that area [Sunday], and I don’t think we did it enough until the third period.”
The Capitals managed to sustain pressure in the final 10 minutes, and they drew a hooking penalty on Boston defenseman Charlie McAvoy at 12:30, but they negated that power play just 36 seconds later when Oshie hooked Chara. Washington had 11 shots in the third period, nearly doubling its total for the first two, but its attempt at a comeback fell short.
“It was a little late in the game there, but having the power play, you can’t take that penalty there,” Oshie said. “I wasn’t happy with it, obviously, but either way, I got to find a way to not get my stick in there and maybe just live to fight another day.”
Oshie’s hook was Washington’s third penalty of the game, matching Boston’s total, but the Capitals have committed the most minor infractions in the NHL this season, which is partially to blame for the penalty kill’s struggles. (The Capitals are killing 77.9 percent of the opposition’s power plays, which ranks 24th in the league.) So while Washington’s shorthanded unit weathered Dmitrij Jaskin’s offensive-zone hooking penalty 5:30 into the game and then Evgeny Kuznetsov’s slash seven seconds after that infraction had been killed off, Reirden was fed up with the stick penalties.
He made his feelings clear by taking ice time away from players who took penalties; neither Kuznetsov nor Jaskin played another even-strength shift in the opening period. Kuznetsov’s penalty was his 20th minor this season, which is tied for 11th most in the NHL. Both players returned to their regular shifts in the second period.
“I think as you get past the all-star break and you start making a push toward the playoffs, that’s an area we have to get better in as we’ve taken far too many minor penalties with our sticks,” Reirden said. “That’s been discussed, and that’s the best thing for our team. We have to be more disciplined if we’re going to have success moving forward from here, and I thought the last 30 games [of the season] is a good time to implement that.”
In part because Boston got five shots on its two power plays, the Bruins had a 15-6 edge in shots through 20 minutes, though neither team had scored. That was mostly a credit to goaltender Braden Holtby, who has typically been at his best against the Bruins. Entering Sunday, he had a 1.85 goals against average with a .944 save percentage and a 16-2-0 record against Boston for his career. He has struggled of late, but after a 27-save performance against Calgary that helped the Capitals snap their seven-game losing skid, he played even better against the Bruins with a lot more action in front of him, finishing with 38 saves.
But seconds after Washington failed to score on its second power play — it had one shot on those two opportunities — David Krejci beat Holtby with a snap shot from the left faceoff circle after a cross-ice feed from Torey Krug. That was Boston’s 26th shot, it came 10:43 into the second period, and the Capitals had tested Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask with just eight shots on goal. Washington wasn’t called for a penalty in the second period, but the team still bled scoring chances, and it was fortunate that its deficit was just 1-0 through two periods.
“We started to play our game in the last period, and that’s not enough,” defenseman Michal Kempny said. “It’s as simple as that. Obviously it’s a very tough loss. We have to be better.”
While the Capitals got captain Alex Ovechkin back for this game — he served a one-game suspension Friday for skipping the All-Star Game — Washington was without third-line center Lars Eller, who has a lower-body injury. Reirden said he is hopeful it’s a short-term injury.
The team also announced that defenseman Christian Djoos would play two games for its American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, a conditioning stint after he had left thigh surgery Dec. 13 for compartment syndrome. Djoos suited up for the Bears on Sunday vs. Belleville and faces Springfield on Wednesday.