On a night when the Washington Capitals would extend their 2010-11 perfect penalty killing mark to 25 straight successes, the Caps were defeated, 3-1, at the Verizon Center by the Boston Bruins. Tim Thomas was superb in goal stopping 35 shots and his club turned some Washington defensive gaffes into tallies en route to their first regulation victory in DC since 2006. The defeat drops the Caps to 4-2 overall and the two squads will meet again in Beantown on Thursday night.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from Tuesday night’s tilt:
Let’s start with the positives for Washington, because there weren’t a whole lot of them. First is clearly the penalty killing unit that was just outstanding once again. Using more players, the goal is to use four sets of forwards and all six defensemen on each minor, and employing an aggressive scheme has worked magic for assistant coach Dean Evason, who runs the special teams. With the Caps down 2-0 in the first period and Boston controlling the play, Washington’s Alexander Semin was whistled for tripping. Last season that might have spelled doom for the Caps because it often seemed that at critical junctures the penalty killing would fail when Washington needed a stop most. Now early on in this campaign the Caps shorthanded crew is not only thwarting the opposition, but the whole team seems to be getting an energy boost from the work of this unit.
Second, rookie Marcus Johansson had his best game as a Cap and notched his first ever NHL goal at 7:42 of the second period. The tally was set up by a good forecheck by Matt Hendricks and Jason Chimera. After Hendricks forced the puck away from Matt Hundwick, Chimera slid a pass to MJ90 near the right post and the young Swede buried it by Thomas. Johansson, who still struggled again on draws going 2-7, and Hendricks were the only Caps who were in the plus category (+1) on the night.
Third, when previously undefeated rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth left the game in the first period due to a reported illness after giving up the first two Boston tallies, Semyon Varlamov came in and made some good saves on some quality chances. Overall #1 yielded only a third period goal, that he never saw due to net traffic, on 14 shots. It was encouraging to get the Russian goalie back in the cage and he played rather well.
Finally in the positive department is the play of rookie defenseman John Carlson, who logged over 24 minutes of ice time, was not on for a goal against, and was clearly Washington’s best blue liner on a night when they sorely missed the great Mike Green (out day to day with an upper body injury).
The Caps did seem to have some energy and put out more effort at times, but overall it was a mediocore performance, at best. Some might point to the Caps shot advantage of 36-21 as a positive, but I won’t hear it. Washington did not do a good job of going to the net, especially on their anemic power play which continues to spend too much time passing the biscuit on the perimeter. The Caps received a late four minute power play with 1:20 to go so they pulled Varly and had a 6 on 4 advantage. However, Semin was the primary culprit of a crew that seemed to show no urgency or desire to get the puck to the net. Atrocious is what I call that last 80 second sequence and Evason needs to get this power play untracked quickly. My suggestion is to sit some of the skill guys and go with a crash the net and blast from the point mentality.
Tyler Sloan showed on Tuesday night why he is typically in the press box on game night. On the first Boston goal, his partner Karl Alzner pinched in the offensive zone. It was not a smart pinch by #27 but in the Caps aggressive system it is something the d-men are authorized to do. Unfortunately Nicklas Backstrom did not do a good job of covering for Alzner and Boston broke down the ice 2 on 1 on #89. Sloan then proceeded to defend like he had never faced an odd man breakaway in his career. First he failed on the opportunity to press the puck carrier, Nathan Horton, in the neutral zone and then he didn’t cut off the pass to David Krejci on the 2 on 1. It was awful defense and it gave Neuvirth no chance to stop Krejci’s shot. #89 needs to make sure he takes the pass and gives the shooter to the goalie in that situation. Sloan was also on the ice for the final Bruins goal but the primary blame on that one goes to the Caps forwards (Chimera and Eric Fehr) who failed to cover the points.
Speaking of not covering their point man, team captain Alexander Ovechkin was caught once again floating in the d-zone and that allowed Bruins d-man Johnny Boychuck to slide down on the right side and take a cross ice pass from Krejci. Neuvirth came out to cut the angle down on the Bruins d-man and #30 stopped the initial shot but Jeff Schultz was unable to clear the puck or Milan Lucic and #17 banged it home to make it 2-0. Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Mike Knuble would all be -2 on the night and the Great #8 struggled against big Bruins defender Zdeno Chara all evening.
“Sometimes you have tougher nights than others. I thought his effort was there, I just didn’t think things were going well for that whole line,” said Boudreau on the play of Ovechkin and his first line.
As for Neuvirth, who was outstanding in the first five games, Boudreau didn’t know that his young net minder was carrying any issues into the contest and was surprised when #30 pulled himself.
“After the second goal, he complained of dizziness and a headache. Then he came off, that was the first I knew of it,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner on his starting goalie.
In 2009-10 the Washington Capitals swept the season series from the Boston Bruins, primarily because the Caps used their significant advantage in the team speed department. In 2010-11 that advantage seems to have been reduced as the B’s now have a once again healthy Lucic plus they’ve added Horton and 2010 NHL 2nd overall draft pick, Tyler Seguin, who can flat out fly. In the first two periods the Bruins were able to keep pace with a Washington team that is still faster, but because Boston was more disciplined with their positioning they built an early 2-0 lead.
“I feel we’ve got pretty good balance on our lines. We’re capable of playing an up tempo game,” said Bruins Coach Claude Julien on his squad’s ability to handle speed in 2010-11.
Boston also has to be pleased with the resurgence of Thomas, who underwent hip surgery last spring, and appears to have regained the form that led Boston to the number one seed in the Eastern Conference in 2008-09. He never looked shaky on Tuesday night and didn’t give Caps forwards much to shoot at in a stellar night’s work.
“That’s my style. I had to battle through some screens and there were some funny little tips that you had to stay on your toes for. We did a good job not giving them break aways or odd man rushes or all alone in the slot or anything like that. We did any excellent job. The times that I gave up rebounds, the D [defense] did a good job clearing them out too,” said the Bruins goalie, who is now 3-0 on the season.
Notes: Tom Poti returned to the lineup and logged 20:31 of ice time. #3 played okay but he was out of position on the 3rd Boston goal, which left Sloan having to fight off two B’s defenders in front of Varly…DJ King dressed and only logged 4:05 of ice time. Boyd Gordon was scratched as a result. Word has it he was a healthy scratch and if so that situation should be reversed in Boston on Thursday night (Gordon plays, King sits). Lucic had a Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist, and fight) and he slugged it out with John Erskine in the 3rd period…Hendricks and Gregory Campbell fought once again, they had a bout 2 seconds into the preseason tilt in Beantown in September. I gave the edge to #26 in this scrap…the Caps narrowly won the face-off battle, 28-27…the Caps attendance of 18,398 gave them their 64th straight home sellout.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Caps forward Matt Hendricks will be on WNST 1570 Baltimore at 925 am on Wednesday with Drew Forrestor on the Comcast Morning Show. Listen Live on WNST.NET.