Normally, the term "Bruins-killer" is one that kind of grates on me. "X-killer" as a concept can be a little silly, as simply labeling someone who typically plays well against the Bruins (or your other favorite team) as a "Bruins-killer" without taking into other factors such as 1. how far out of line their performance is with their normal level of play or 2. how often they play against Boston... that just seems out of whack to me. Daniel Briere was a Bruins-killer. A lot of the guys that people refer to as such are probably just, you know, guys who have had a couple good games that happened to be against Boston.
That said, Braden Holtby is a Bruins-killer. No two ways about it. Holtby stopped all 27 shots that the Bruins put on net, completing a season-shutout of the Bruins. This 3-0 victory gave him his third shutout of the Bruins in one season, which is something that only Cristobal Huet can claim to have also done since '87-88. Holtby stopped all 88 shots that the Bruins threw at his net this season, and the loss dropped Boston to a virtual tie with Ottawa; only the B's tiebreaker keeps them in the 8th spot.
So, about this loss. Not the overall season series, or the suspiciously unicorn-like appearance that Holtby has displayed versus the Bruins (thankfully captured by Sky in the above picture), or the whole "hot-goalie-ends-streak" story that some will take away from this. Yes, Holtby was damn good, especially in the third period when the Bruins really should have closed to 3-1 at least once, but the Bruins deserved this loss. It wasn't stolen from them or all bad puck-luck, it was getting pretty steadily outplayed and outcoached in a big game.
The Capitals struck first, scoring by way of their top unit 4:49 into the game. Surpisingly it didn't involve Alex Ovechkin, instead coming when Brooks Orpik kept the puck in at the blue line and knocked it down to Nicklas Backstorm. The Caps all-time Assist leader did what he does, working his way down past the face-off dot of the defensive-right circle and firing a dart of a pass to right point-man John Carlson. The delay and pass was so pretty that Carlson found himself wide open, and buried it past Tuukka Rask. 1-0.
While the defensive coverage from the Adam McQuaid-Torey Krug pairing was a bit loose, sometimes you just have to tip your cap to great players making great plays. Not many people put a pass right on the tape in that situation, and Carlson isn't exactly chopped liver either. The problem was that the run of the play, which had been about even in terms of shot attempts in the early going, became unfavorable for the Bruins. For the first time since before the win streak began, the Bruins looked absolutely lost trying to clear their own zone. It's all well and good to "Hit Somebody," as the great Warren Zevon sung, but you need to be able to make a breakout pass afterward.
The barrage of Caps shots finally yielded another goal when Matt Niskanen scored a typical "corgi goal," unloading a slapper from the right point which deflected off Zach Trotman's stick and past Tuukka Rask. 2-0. We can wax poetic about bad luck and whatnot, but when you get pinned down for as long as the Bruins did, something eventually finds a way to the back of the net.
In the second half of the first period, the Bruins got their game back, but 2-0 is a tough hole to dig out of and, while the Patrice Bergeron line in particular had a couple buzzing shifts, they couldn't find a way past Holtby on a couple good looks from the slot. Brad Marchand, battling an illness, had a couple quality wristers snuffed out. The David Krejci line, heretofore quiet, finally got some zone time, as did the new Ryan Spooner line. The Bruins weren't really blown out in this game, you see--but by the time they were competing at about an even level, they were already down 2. The first period finished 16-10 in SOG for WSH, with the Caps retaining the two-goal advantage.
The Bruins needed an answer in the second period and, of course, that was when Holtby really shined. Two different bouts of sustained pressure by the visitors went begging, with Torey Krug facilitating a good deal of chaos for the Washington defense. Milan Lucic probably had the best chance, sent away on a breakaway by a Connolly pass (I believe it was a long shift) and was stopped by Holtby on what was his best save of the night. Notably, Reilly Smith passed up on a possibly open short side at one point that might have actually been the best chance to come out of Krug's play. Smith's possession game was actually pretty good today, but it remains clear that his decision-making is pretty hesitant in the wake of his poor play. Anyway, SPOILER -- the Bruins didn't score then and didn't score on a later decent couple chances for Milan Lucic and the Krejci line. However, Zdeno Chara returned from an apparent injury and was definitely a shot in the arm.
Speaking of the possession game, the Bruins were playing it pretty well towards the end of the second. War-on-ice's chart for tonight shows the surge, with only the note that while the chances might have been pretty even, the Capitals had an easy time finding the Boston slot than vice versa. We generally avoid getting hung up on single-game possession stats unless they're representative of a larger trend, but tip of the cap to Ryan Spooner for managing to log +17 in the shot attempt category with his new line. The Bruins had three lines going pretty well for the last couple shifts of the second.
The problem is, when you don't score for almost 38 minutes of hockey and you're pressing for offense, anything can happen (and often does). The Caps effectively iced the game at 17:47 of the second when Evgeny Kuznetsov made one of the better behind-the-net feeds that any of us have ever seen--and one Tuukka Rask did not see, though it's damn hard to blame the goalie on a pass that pretty--to a net-crashing Marcus Johansson. Johansson put it through a still-adjusting Rask. It was 3-0, and Florida was looking good.
The third period saw yet another spirited effort from the Bruins to dig out of a hole (I'm tired of writing this sentence), and another time where they fell short (I'm more tired of writing this part). Lucic-Spooner-Pastrnak was reunited, and immediately had two scores chances; one of which was a decent save by Holtby on #17, another complete highway robbery of a Pastrnak attempt on a rebound. The Bruins, again, did not score a goal in this game, so I'm sorry for the depressing endings to these paragraphs.
Now, it should not be said that Claude Julien did not have his reasons for the line-up he iced tonight, or that they didn't have effective stretches, but the question of was this the right time for a shake-up? That one needs to be asked. While some of it was bad puckluck, mediocre finishing, and Holtby, there were other times where the Bruins simply looked more disjointed than usual, as evidenced by the fact that, despite out shot-attempting the Caps in the end (teams that are chasing a game often end up with more raw corgis), the Bruins were outshot 33-27 in a game that Washington led from five minutes in.
Looking at the performances line-by-line, Marchand-Bergeron-Eriksson unit generally looked fine, as Marchand-Bergeron-X usually look in terms of two-way play. The other lines had their moments, but both David Krejci and Carl Soderberg had subpar games with their new wingers, and Spooner's line suffered from their playmaker's best couple passes landing on the stick of Chris Kelly who, offensively-speaking, is a good defensive center and not much of a scoring winger. On one sequence that was worthy of running to your local liquor store to forget, Kelly missed the net on a 2-on-1 (with some help from Holtby but the puck wasn't on target anyway) and Matt Bartkowski managed to shoot the rebound into Holtby's chest. Holtby's chest was located on the ice. Connolly continues to impress with his overall game, even if his penalty in the closing minutes--a slewfoot of Joel Ward--wasn't exactly a high point.
Despite all of this, tonight wasn't really a a terrible game, just a bad one that involved some patchy offensive work and some depth defensemen being exposed. There's going to be a bunch of bull about Rask's play, but he was fine in a game where the Bruins started making passes ten minutes late. In terms of those lines, the shake-up might work over a longer span than just one night. Heck, the Bruins might adjust and win easily tomorrow, though they face a Florida team that's rested and ready to play. The problem is that the Bruins are flat-out out of times where anyone can be happy with a "good effort" loss. They need wins and, whatever the optimal line-up and whoever they're planning on icing with whoever else, they need a win in a game that starts in less than 24 hours.
With this loss, the margin for error is now razor-thin.
The Bruins will be back in action tomorrow night at 7 against the Florida Panthers. The Panthers and Bobby Lu, who you might have heard were kind of sort eliminated from playoff contention by Boston, have plenty of reason to play spoiler.
(Tip o' the cap to Sky for the wonderful Holtbicorn pic. I'm sorry the actual hockey news isn't as funny. ;) )