BOSTON — For a team that insists it is determined to make the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season, the Washington Capitals haven’t played the part on the ice this week.
The Capitals recorded only eight shots on goal through the first 40 minutes Thursday — an odious feat they have managed on consecutive nights — and were dominated by the Boston Bruins, 3-0, at TD Garden.
They didn’t simply lose to the second-best team in the Eastern Conference but received a demonstration in what a puck possession team really looks like as Boston outshot the Capitals 43-16 and pinned them in their own zone for most of the contest. The Bruins had 67 attempts (shots, blocks and misses) to the Capitals’ 32.
The lack of anything resembling scoring chances isn’t a one-time thing, either. Excluding overtime against the Flyers on Sunday, Washington has been held to five or fewer shots in five of its past nine periods, and it’s no coincidence the team has recorded just one point in that three-game span.
“Can’t get much lower than that. It’s pretty bad when you’re only manufacturing eight shots in two periods. That’s as many as you should get per period at least,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “The killer instinct isn’t there right now, and it needs to be there because we’re running out of time. A lot of us are pretty frustrated, and there’s no one to be frustrated at but ourselves, and each individual needs to play better, play harder. Not enough guys are doing it.”
As they’ve stalled, the Capitals have missed out on chances to push their way back into the playoff picture. They still sit just one point out of the final wild-card spot in the East and are one of four teams within four points of that threshold. But Washington has played more games than all of the other competitors (64) and does not own the first tiebreaker against any of them.
The Capitals’ penchant for poor defensive play has been a problem all season, but when combined with a nonexistent offense for prolonged stretches, every miscue in their own zone is magnified. That was the case against the Bruins, who have made an art form out of smothering teams with an aggressive forecheck and the defensive aptitude to poke pucks off sticks and deflect passes before they reach a target.
“We don’t have a lot of shots. We’re not getting any chances it feels like, and the urgency has to be a little better,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “We’ve got to start off better. We’ve had some slow starts the last two games.”
While the teams played to a scoreless first period, Boston dictated the play. Goaltender Braden Holtby, making his seventh consecutive start even though recently acquired Jaroslav Halak met up with the team Thursday, put forth a strong effort as those in front of him broke down and gave the Bruins partial breakaways and clean point-blank shots. Holtby finished with 40 saves, while his counterpart Tuukka Rask recorded his first career win against the Capitals with just 16.
“It’s tough because we’re in a playoff battle,” Holtby said. “It’s frustrating, but it’s no more frustrating for me than it is for other guys in the room. We want to play better, we know we can play better and we’re going to have to start.”
In the second period, Boston’s control of the contest manifested itself on the scoreboard.
Cameron Schilling , recalled after John Erskine sustained an undisclosed upper body injury against the Flyers, tripped gritty Bruins forward Gregory Campbell on a rush up ice, resulting in a delayed penalty. Boston worked the puck around the offensive zone, and Patrice Bergeron ripped a one-timer from the top of the left circle that Campbell tipped past Holtby for a 1-0 lead at 3:05 of the second. Campbell was unmarked on the left side of the crease, while Schilling, the 14th defenseman to suit up in a game for Washington this season, and rookie Connor Carrick were both focused on Daniel Paille to the right.
Unlike Wednesday night in Philadelphia, when the Capitals rallied after falling into a 4-0 hole before losing, 6-4, there was no spark to be seen from the visitors.
Boston doubled its advantage at the 8:20 mark of the period when Eric Fehr lost a defensive zone faceoff to Chris Kelly that allowed the Bruins to cleanly set up. Center Carl Soderberg collected the puck in front off a rebound and, with a step on Carrick, wrapped around the cage. When he curled past the left post, Soderberg sent a pass to Loui Eriksson, who had given Fehr the slip in front of the net. Fehr swiped at his opponent with his stick, but the swat wasn’t just late but in vain as Eriksson lifted a puck over Holtby for a 2-0 lead.
Encompassing the span in which the Bruins created their advantage, the Capitals were in the midst of a futile stretch of 12:21 in which they didn’t fire a single shot against Rask. By the time Brad Marchand added an empty-net tally with 94 seconds remaining, Washington only had four more shots on goal than the Bruins had blocked attempts.
“In the last few games we haven’t had nearly enough shots on net,” Troy Brouwer said. “We just got to find ways to get more pucks to the net. The last two games we’ve had eight shots through two periods, and that’s not going to win you very many hockey games.”
More on the Capitals:
Capitals Insider: Washington left looking for its shots
Capitals Insider: Laich, Erskine miss game against Bruins
Capitals Insider: Halak joins Washington but doesn’t start
Capitals Insider: Penner hopes for smooth transition
DC Sports Bog: Short history of McPhee’s happiness at trade deadline