BOSTON--Going into the contest, it appeared as if the Bruins were in for a long night. Their reward for getting completely smothered by the Canadiens in the Winter Classic, arguably the most important regular season game? The Washington Capitals, who have steamrolled everyone in their path so far this season. No Krejci? No Marchand? No Pasta? No Kelly? No problem? No...?
The Capitals took an early 1-0 lead into the first intermission after Andre Burakovsky found the back of the net from a lovely cross ice pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov.
"[Evgeny Kuznetsov] had the puck there, my... job was to find open ice because we know Kuzy [Evgeny Kuznetsov] can give us the puck as soon as we are open for like a half second, the puck is going to be there so our job is to just find an open spots on ice because Kuz [Evgeny Kuznetsov] can really find himself on ice," said Burakovsky.
The Bruins faced an uphill battle from there-the Capitals were 12-0-0 when leading after the first 20 minutes and 20-1-0 when scoring first.
Kuznetsov found the score sheet again, making a slick move and rifling a wrist shot into the top right corner to double Washington's lead. Kuznetsov now has 37 points in 37 games, which is as many as he had in 80 games in the 2014-15 campaign. He has been particularly hot lately, notching nine points in his last eight games. When asked about what has sparked his improvement, Kuznetsov said:
"I think all team members have good points right? I don’t care about my game, I want to say better words right now."
The Bruins struck back before the end of the second period, with an eerily similar goal to Washington's first. Patrice Bergeron dished the puck to Brett Connolly, who slid it cross ice to Loui Eriksson, and the Bruins were on the board. The B's trailed 2-1 and were outshot 23-14 through the first two frames. The Black and Gold struggled to gain a consistent source of offense, failing to generate many dynamic scoring chances.
The Capitals stretched their lead to 3-1 after Marcus Johannson pounced upon a rebound in front. Dennis Seidenberg failed to clear Johannson from the front of the net, with the Swede having complete body position and control in the most dangerous area of the ice. This has been a reoccurring theme for the Bruins, who fell victim to net front goals multiple times in the Winter Classic in their loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Although the team stressed defensive zone coverage in the practices leading up to their clash against the Capitals, too many players had time and separation in front of Rask. The Bruins need to improve on clearing opponents from the crease, as the team as a whole simply isn't physically imposing enough there currently.
Patrice Bergeron gave Boston hope after he beat Holtby with a nifty wrist shot to put the Bruins back in striking distance. Ryan Spooner, who played really well, sauced the assistant captain a nice pass. Bergeron, a newly minted All-Star, played very well. He won 14 of his 20 face-offs attempted and notched two points in the contest.
On both of Boston's goals, the team gained the zone with quick zone entries. With speed gained from the neutral zone, Washington's defensemen were forced to hastily back into their own zone, and both times, the Bruins were able to beat Holtby. The majority of the game, the Bruins took their time entering the Capital's zone, waiting for the perfect net front pass or a sudden lane to shoot through. The results? A quick turnover because of a bad pass or poke check or blocked shots that were consistently fired into the red shin pads). The delayed plays where members of the Bruins didn't keep their feet moving equated to one-and-done opportunities. The Bruins struggled to apply pressure, relying on outside shots that were clearly visible to Holtby to provide their offense. Pressure inside to ensure rebound opportunities and restrict Holtby's sight was almost nonexistent. One could count the number of shots with a screen in front of the Capital's goaltender on one hand, which is certainly an area that the Bruins could improve upon, as Patrice Bergeron noted:
"I think we have a lot of one and done kind of type of chances right now and we have to sustain pressure in their zone and find ways to do that by being on our toes and really…Yeah like I said, being on the puck and from there having some good cycles and chances in front of the net."
Holtby wasn't allowing many shots in, whether he could see them or not. He boasts an impeccable 17-0-2 record in his last 19 decisions (!!!) and currently sits second in the league in goals against average and third in save percentage. Did someone say Hart trophy?
Boston nipped and clawed to even the score late in the third period, upping the ante and pushing the Capitals back on their heels. The Bruins had some outstanding chances to score in the final minute and thirty seconds with Rask watching from the bench, but failed to capitalize on the man advantage. The Bruins almost equaled their first and second period shot totals (14) in the third period (13).
The Bruins lost defenseman Adam McQuaid in the game after Zach Sill stapled the veteran blueliner into the glass. Sill has been suspended for the next two games (I know, hhhuuuugggeee loss for the Capitals) and McQuaid has not been on the ice since the vicious hit. Sill did not earn a penalty on the play, and even believed that the hit was clean, according to Bergeron:
"And he thought it was a good hit. But there was no way possible that he could really believe that"
Below is a video of the hit, courtesy of fellow SCOC writer Chris Abraham:
The loss of McQuaid will hurt the Bruins. Zdeno Chara has logged an average of 24:27 of ice time per night, a far cry from anyone else donning a spoked B on their chest. The loss of McQuaid not only increase Chara's ice time and responsibility, but will also force younger, less proven defensemen to step up in McQuaid's absence. Yes, I'm looking at you, Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow.
The injury to McQuaid and failing to gain two points, thus squandering a chance to climb in the sardine-tight packed Eastern conference standing, are obviously disappointing. However, for a depleted Bruins team to compete with some of their stars on the ninth floor in stylish suits against a Capitals team eyeing the Presidents' trophy is a feat in itself.
The Bruins face off against the New Jersey Devils on Friday night, when Boston begins its five game northeast road trip.