After playing too loose, falling behind early, and ultimately losing, 5-2, to the Rangers on Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals really hoped to have a strong start against the Boston Bruins at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.
They did not get one.
The Bruins repeatedly put pucks deep on Washington early and throttled the Capitals in their own end with a vicious forecheck over the first 10 minutes. Luckily for the Caps, goalie Braden Holtby (28 saves) was razor sharp and the Caps were able to keep things scoreless.
Shortly after the 12 minute mark though, Justin Williams turned a puck over in the neutral zone while shorthanded and that gave the Bruins a three on two rush that they converted off of a fluky bounce. Suddenly Boston had scored for the first time since the spring of 2014 on Holtby (the Caps shut the B’s out three times in 2014-15) and they had a 1-0 lead.
But that’s all the Bruins would get as the Caps made some adjustments to get the puck out of their own end and from there things started to go their way.
“We just started doing what we were supposed to do from the start, we were too slow. We weren’t getting close enough to their high guy for their shots. We know they like to play a triangle game. We weren’t winning the races to the pucks and then it seemed like we got our legs a little bit,” said defensemen Karl Alzner.
That they did and with four minutes left in the opening frame, the line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Williams had a dominant offensive zone shift. Then the Caps top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie built off of that momentum and buried one with the Gr8 scoring a greasy goal in front. Ovechkin would take a couple of cross checks in the back and slide one past Tuukka Rask (27 saves) to tie the game up. The Tim Kerr/Dino Ciccarelli type of goal absolutely lifted the spirits of the Capitals and those in attendance at the Verizon Center.
“Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] scores those highlight reel goals all the time. We talk about this is a team [Boston] that has a good goaltender. Their physical [defensive] core and you got to go to those hard areas to score goals against them. When one of your top scorers is known for his one-on-one and great shot, goes to the hard areas and gets one of those grinder, blue paint goals, it’s great,” said Coach Barry Trotz about the turning point in the hockey game, Ovechkin’s seventh goal of the season.
The Caps took the lead just 4:10 into period two when Brooks Laich scored his 1st goal of the season by doing what Ovechkin had done earlier, going to the front of the net. Dmitry Orlov’s point blast hit Laich en route and got by Rask. Washington increased the lead to 3-1 on a five on three power play with Backstrom saucering a sweet pass to John Carlson for a one timer. It was Carlson’s third goal of the season to go with nine assists and the way the Capitals players rotated to confuse Boston was a nice, new power play wrinkle.
From there on in, the Capitals clamped things down and gave the Bruins pretty much nothing the rest of the way. The Caps improved to 6-0-0 this season when leading after two periods by playing a nearly flawless final stanza. They held Boston to just one quality shot, which is impressive.
“I was really happy with the way we handled the third… We understood that they [Boston] were going to come with their d [defense] getting active, and we just stayed to the game plan, and just making sure we were making them come 200 feet and being on the right side of pucks when they got jammed up, and we protected the slot,” added Coach Trotz on the third period success.
“I think we were responsible, we changed our system a little bit, I think maybe gave them a different look and threw a wrench in their plans and we just played smart with the puck,” added Alzner, who sealed this one with an empty net goal with 1:50 remaining to close it out at 4-1.
One thing the coaching staff did for the third period that really worked was a juggling of the lines. Coach Trotz moved Andre Burakovsky up with fellow Swedes, Backstrom and Johansson, and he bumped Williams over with Jay Beagle and Jason Chimera. As a result, Boston was stymied getting only seven shots on the cage over the last 20 minutes. During the offseason Washington talked about developing a killer instinct and this third period performance was a big step in that direction.
Overall, this was an important bounce back victory after a disappointing result in New York on Tuesday. The Caps improved to 9-3 and matched the 1991-92 and 2011-12 teams for the best Washington starts to a season. That 91-92 squad I talk about often because I believe it was one of the Capitals all time best teams. The problem was the team that won the Cup in 1992, the Pittsburgh Penguins, were just a bit better, primarily due to their goaltending. Goaltending is a strength for the Caps these days and if they keep improving their overall play and stay healthy, this season should continue to be a fun and special one.
Notes: All three Caps defensive pairs played well with Carlson and Brooks Orpik leading the way in time on ice with 25:20 and 22:19, respectively. It was a super game for both and Carlson rightfully earned the first star…Orlov and Nate Schmidt both were excellent after being the best D pair against the Rangers. They logged 14:52 and 15:21, respectively. Each skates well and moves the puck out of the defensive zone quickly. The Caps have to be very pleased at the level of play they are getting from that pair so early in the season…Washington outshot Boston, 31-29, but were outshot attempted, 63-53. The Caps blocked 19 shots and did a good job of keeping the Bruins on the perimeter; especially in period three…Boston won the face off battle, 39-29. David Krejci was 11-3 for the B’s while Kuznetsov went 6-14 for the Caps…next up for the Capitals are the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 pm on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. The Leafs are not good and are clearly one of the front runners in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes.