No Doubting Thomas – For the second straight game, the Capitals poured more than 35 shots on Boston netminder Tim Thomas. And for the second straight game, the veteran goaltender stopped all but one of them. Thomas backstopped the Bruins to a 4-1 win over the Capitals in Boston’s home opener at TD Garden on Thursday night.
Jordan Caron’s goal early in the second period stands up as the game-winner, but to Caps’ coach Bruce Boudreau, the last-minute goal in the first period of a 0-0 game was the one that sticks in his craw.
Washington played a strong first period, but was unable to score the game’s first goal for the fifth time in seven games this season. With just under two minutes remaining in the first, Capitals winger Matt Hendricks was whistled for a tripping infraction near the Boston blueline.
Michael Ryder scored for the B’s at 19:32 of the first on their first power play of the night. Patrice Bergeron had a little too much room at center point, and he was able to thread a pass down to Ryder who was camped just off the left post. The winger banged it behind Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov for the B’s first goal of the game and the first power play goal against the Capitals this season.
“The goal that killed us wasn’t in the second period, it was the goal at the end of the first period,’" rues Boudreau. “We came in here and I thought we outplayed them in the first period pretty good, and coming in [to intermission] 0-0 in the home opener would have been so much better than the way it was. That was a big key there.”
Early in the second, the Bruins added to their advantage when the Capitals top trio of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble were caught on the ice too long. The trio got hemmed into its own end for a lengthy spell before they were finally able to get the puck out. However, none of the Caps were able to get to the bench.
“That was pretty much the only time we played in our own end as a line,” laments Knuble of that shift in which he and his linemates were on the ice for 1:52. “We worked very hard and threw a lot of things at the net as a group.”
In the meantime, the Bruins turned over their personnel, getting their second line out in relief of their top unit. The weary Capitals left rookie Jordan Caron all alone in the high slot, and Bergeron fed him for a wrister that beat Varlamov high to the glove side.
“We got caught out there too long with Nicky’s line," says Boudreau. "[The Bruins] got one change in while the puck was in our zone, which was a great change by them. We were too tired to move and they made it 2-0. [Then] they scored on the power play and made it 3-0. It’s pretty tough to come back against this team when their goalie is playing like that.”
With two goals in a span of just under three minutes late in the first period and early in the second, the Bruins gave Thomas all the support he would require.
Knuble and his linemates fired 17 of Washington’s total of 39 shots on goal for the game, but they came up empty. Jason Chimera scored the Caps’ lone goal when he intercepted an ill-advised Thomas clearing attempt and fired it into the vacant cage in the third period.
“It was a 4-1 score,” says Knuble. “It looks a little more lopsided than it was. I feel that we played well again, we played hard and we threw a lot of pucks at the net. Timmy was the difference. His lateral movement was phenomenal tonight. He was seeing the puck tonight, seeing everything and it made a big difference for them.
“I think that’s the storyline tonight,” says Laich. “As much as [Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth] had been the savior for us, I think Thomas really held them in there. Myself personally, he made a lot of very good saves on myself.
“I thought we played a very good game minus a couple of minutes. I thought our first period was the best that we’ve maybe played this season. I think that’s the most shots that we’ve had this season. Definitely a lot of scoring chances; there were some times Thomas was looking around and didn’t know where the puck was and was just able to find it under a pad or in his skates or something. If one or two of those go in, we have a very different hockey game. I like the pressure we put on him and I like our attack. We’ve got to stay out of the penalty box a little bit more and clean up our own zone.
“I think we can still take some positives out of this game even though we lost.”
Thomas is now 12-4-2 with a 2.44 GAA and a .924 save pct. lifetime against the Capitals.
When The Spell Is Broken – Washington’s streak of six straight games without having allowed a power play goal came to a halt late in the first period of Thursday’s game when Ryder scored on the Bruins’ first extra-man chance of the game.
The 2008-09 Minnesota Wild remain the only team in post-expansion (1967-present) history to start the season with seven games of unblemished penalty killing work. The Wild went 22-for-22 and killed off 40:16 in shorthanded time, stopping a total of 37 power play shots in the process.
During its own run, Washington killed 25 of 25 opposition power plays during a span of 45:46 in shorthanded time. In a testament to how well the Caps have been playing on the penalty kill, they allowed a mere 29 power play shots on goal during their streak.
The Bruins entered Thursday's game with one power play goal in four games this season, but they scored three extra-man tallies against the Caps' previously perfect penalty killing outfit.
Marcus On The Mark – Caps rookie center Marcus Johansson continues to improve. Skating 13:36 in Thursday’s game, Johansson won five of his nine draws and helped new linemates Laich and Alexander Semin create a number of strong scoring chances.
“I felt, especially today, a little bit better for myself,” says Johansson. “I felt I played good. We worked very hard, we got the puck deep and created chances but we didn’t get it in. It’s the goals that count and we can’t be happy.”
A game after he scored his first NHL goal against Thomas, Johansson’s strong outing did not go unnoticed.
“I thought Marcus was one of our best players on the ice,” says Laich. “He is very easy to play with. He skates so well and he moves the puck. He was creating chances all night. He was taking the puck to the net, he was going to the dirty areas moving the puck. He was opening up ice for myself and [Semin]. I thought he had a very string game and was a bright spot for us.”
“I thought he played a very good game,” says the Caps coach. “Marcus was probably our best forward. I thought him and Chimera were really skating.”
Snakebit? – Despite firing 75 shots on goal in their last two games, the Caps have scored only twice. Including the last three games of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Capitals have been held to two or fewer goals in regulation time in nine of their last 10 games. They’ve scored exactly one goal in five of those 10 games.
Boudreau didn’t juggle his lines as Thursday’s game wore on, but his patience with his combinations was not rewarded, either.
Now, he’s not sure whether to stick with the status quo or change things up as he and his staff prepare for Saturday’s game against Atlanta.
“It’s something I have to think about for sure,” admits Boudreau. “Guys are not producing that should be producing and we want them to produce. But is it because they’re not playing well or is it because they’re snakebit? I think they can all play better. But it’s a combination of both, I think.”
“We’ve just got to keep shooting,” says Laich. “Forty shots and we only get one goal, I don’t think that happens to this group very often. It’s nothing to be deterred about, it’s nothing to be frustrated about. We’ve just got to keep working and keep shooting and try to get those second and third opportunities.”
Working Overtime – Long shifts did the Caps in more than once on Thursday. In addition to the long shift that resulted in Boston’s second goal, the trio of Ovechkin, Semin and Eric Fehr were all out for more than a minute midway through the second. The result was a pair of icing calls on the Caps – which left Washington unable to get fresh troops on the ice – followed by a hooking call on Semin, followed by a power play goal from Boston’s Nathan Horton.
At the time of Semin’s penalty, Ovechkin had been on the ice for 2:54.
“For us, we’ve got to defend better,” says Laich. “And then once you get the puck out of the zone, you’ve got to change, too. I think our shift lengths were too long tonight and that results in not moving your legs in the defensive zone and being hemmed in and that’s when you get into trouble.”
Caps Killer – Ancient Bruins winger Mark Recchi added to his all-time leading point total against Washington with a primary assist on the Horton goal. Recchi now has 110 career points in 98 games against the Capitals.
Streaking – Horton and Milan Lucic (assist) kept scoring streaks alive on Thursday. Both players have collected at least a point in all five of Boston’s games this season.
By The Numbers – Ovechkin led all Caps with 25:53 in ice time. Tom Poti led all Caps defensemen with 24:06 … The average shift lengths for Ovechkin, Poti, Backstrom and Knuble were all a minute or more in length. It is the first time all season the Caps have had more than two players with average shift lengths of a minute or more, and the first time all season any Caps forward besides Ovechkin has done so … Defensemen Jeff Schultz and Tyler Sloan were the only Capitals not to record a shot on goal in Thursday’s game … Washington had exactly 13 shots on goal in each of the game’s three periods … Schultz and John Erskine led the Capitals with three blocked shots each … Washington was outhit 34-23. Except for Ryder, every Bruins skater recorded at least one hit. Ovechkin led the Caps with five.