Two nights after beating the Caps in Washington, the Bruins handed the Caps a second straight defeat last night in Boston, 4-1. While the Caps unleashed even more shots on Tim Thomas than Tuesday night, the Boston goalie was brilliant and the Bruins physically dominated the Caps all over the ice. It seemed that the only team that learned any lessons from Tuesday night was the Bruins as they demolished Washington’s perfect record on the penalty kill, scoring three power play goals on four chances.
Two bright spots for the Caps were the play of rookie Marcus Johansson, who was promoted to the second line and responded with his best game of the season. Semyon Varlamov made his first start of the season and showed why the Caps have a promising future with two young netminders.
The Caps once again had many quality chances in the offensive zone, especially early in the game, but Thomas played lights-out good, making 38 saves for the game. The Bruins scored a power play goal in the last minute of the first period when Patrice Bergeron found Michael Ryder open at the side of the crease, and he knocked it past Varlamov for a 1-0 lead.
Boston’s top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton again dominated the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble line. This was most evident early in the second when the B’s maintained offensive zone pressure for more than two minutes, made a quick line change on the fly, and the fresh second line took advantage of the exhausted Caps. Bergeron fed a backhand pass from behind the net to rookie Jordan Caron for a quick wrist shot over Varlamov’s glove to make it 2-0.
The Bruins continued shelling Varlamov with 18 shots for the period. When Alexander Semin was whistled for hooking, the ensuing power play was textbook pass-pass-shoot as the Bruins managed to set up camp in the Caps zone. Finally Nathan Horton walked down the slot and put a blast through Varlamov with eight minutes to play in the period for a three goal lead.
The Caps had a hard time breaking out of their own zone. Sloppy passing and turnovers lead to too many odd-man breaks. Playing with a lead, the Bruins used a mid-zone trap to stymie the Caps passing game, forcing the Caps to dump and chase. Unfortunately, that tactic didn’t work either as the Bruins won most of the one-on-one battles in the corners. Many of the Caps shots were from the perimeter, and the Bruins owned the turf in front of goal, preventing traffic and clearing any rebounds. When the Caps did get a shot in close, Thomas was quick and acrobatic in the crease.
The third period saw more aggressive play by the Caps as they once again went on the offensive, got two power play chances, but were not able to break through. “We had lots of chances to score,” said coach Bruce Boudreau. “The power play hasn’t come through for us.”
If Thomas has any weakness, it is stick handling. Halfway through the third period he tried to clear a loose puck. Jason Chimera, with his trademark hustle on the forecheck, picked off the puck and coolly wristed it into the empty net to ruin Thomas’s shut out bid. The Bruins closed out the scoring late in the period on another power play goal on a one-time blast from the point by Zdeno Chara to make it 4-1.
These two games with Boston were reminiscent of the Montreal series last spring when the Caps faced a hot goalie in Jaroslav Halak, and the Canadiens capitalized on odd-man breaks, special teams, and controlling the slot. While the Caps certainly missed Mike Green last night, the young defensive corp will need to improve on picking up the open man in front of the net, and on their break-out and mid-ice passing game. Otherwise, these home and home games with Boston will be the template on how to beat the Caps this season.
Next up: Saturday at home against the Thrashers at 7pm at the Verizon Center.