Extracurriculars in Boston? No way… (NESN)
The Washington Capitals were defeated for the fourth time in five games on Saturday afternoon in Boston, falling to the Bruins by a final score of 4-1. Just as they did in Raleigh on Thursday night, Washington fell into a 2-0 hole in the first period, but were unable to climb out of the hole again. Washington actually didn’t even score a goal off of their own sticks, as the one goal they did get, credited to Marcus Johansson, was an own goal that took a bad bounce off a defender and into the back of Anton Khudobin’s net. With the loss, the Caps fall to 11-15-1, near the bottom of the NHL standings.
The Bruins came out hard and fast and never really looked back, a defining trait for this team over the last three seasons that has helped define them as a constant contender. The big, physical Bruins established their forecheck early and their forwards wore down the Caps’ injured, overworked, and partly AHL defensive corps. It’s not all injuries, because the Bruins wear down almost everyone they play; that’s why they are near the top of the NHL standings. But the Caps’ injuries and just general ineffectiveness in their own defensive zone made things worse, much worse. Until the Caps can get fully healthy in back and can avoid playing guys who are regularly healthy scratches, we are going to see teams have their way on the forecheck more often than not. That forecheck often leads to goals against and losses.
Michal Neuvirth, starting his second consecutive game, was beaten three times in the first two periods by open shots in the slot. He probably should have had the first one, but had no chance on the other goals he allowed, in the second period or after. A shame, really, because he made some nice saves to help give his team a slight prayer. Braden Holtby will start Sunday against Buffalo, and I don’t think it will even be a question – nor should it be. This is Holtby’s net for now, and he has earned that right.
Steve Oleksy, who has been nothing short of a sensational story since his recall for the Capitals, struggled Saturday as he was on the ice for the first three goals against and did not look as solid in back as he has previously during his recall. Because the Caps’ blue line is decimated by injuries, Oleksy isn’t likely to lose his lineup spot over one game, nor should he. He deserves a chance to right the ship, and that will likely come right away on Sunday evening in DC (even if John Erskine is healthy enough to return).
Just a minor note here, because of the loss – major props are in order for Matt Hendricks, who stood up to the Bruins like a champ in the later stages of the game. Hendy was goaded in to his second fight of the game by Adam McQuaid and Shawn Thornton at the same time and stood up to McQuaid, getting a bloody knuckle and a torn jersey in the process. He was fighting a losing battle, as most players are when they fight Bruins, but he stood up and took one for the team. He’s a champ, and I hope he decides to sign on with the Capitals (at a reasonable price, of course). You need guys like Matt Hendricks.
In closing – the Capitals did not lose this game because they are “soft.” They lost this game because the Bruins are a very good hockey team, a hockey team that is better than them. They have a big, fast, strong, and deep roster that adheres to a well-designed system and right now, the Capitals do not. They execute and their best players are their best players night in and night out. It has nothing to do with guts or grit or “poking the bear,” as Mike from Charlestown might try to tell you on 98.5 the Sports Hub. Washington has things to fix, and the Bruins exposed those things on Saturday afternoon.
The Capitals will be right back in action on Sunday, welcoming the Buffalo Sabres to Verizon Center for a 7 PM start in the evening.
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here for all your news needs this season.