THE RESULT: Well, it finally caught up to them.
The Washington Capitals played hard most of the night, but still not particularly well. They had very little cohesion in their offensive attack: missing passes, having trouble digging pucks off the boards and out of the corners, and generally losing physical battles all night to the bigger, stronger Boston Bruins.
Unlike the four previous games where brilliant bursts of individual talent carried the Caps to wins, the Caps came up empty tonight, falling to the Bruins 3-1 before 18,398 stunned Caps fans at Verizon Center.
"We're not terrible," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We had a tough game. I thought we outplayed them pretty good for the most part. They were opportunistic, and we get a chance to play them again Thursday."
As has been the theme all season long, the Capitals' vaunted power play unit went scoreless in four attempts, looking disorganized and listless.
Boston goalie Tim Thomas made 35 saves on 36 shots to lead the Bruins to their third win in four games. Thomas has allowed just three goals in three games, all wins.
The Caps (4-2-0) came out firing in the first ten minutes, playing some of their most complete hockey of the season. They just couldn't find the mark against Thomas. Then, at 9:12, Boston scored their first goal and the tenor of the game changed. When the Bruins got their second two minutes later, everyone in the building could feel it.
“We had good chances to score goals but we didn’t,” laments Ovechkin. “They used two chances in the first period [to take a lead]. We made mistakes in our zone, I made a mistake and we had a mistake when they scored the first goal.”
Ovechkin was a minus-2 for the night, scoreless for the first time this season. Boston's first line was responsible for their first two goals, converting a 2-on-1 and banging in a big rebound in the slot as goalie Michal Neuvirth got out of position making a save.
Neuvirth left the game abruptly after the second goal, complaining of dizziness and a headache. Boudreau indicated after the game the first he'd heard of Neuvirth feeling poorly was when the rookie netminder pulled himself from the game.
“After the second goal,” explains Boudreau, “he complained of dizziness and a headache. So the next whistle he came off.
“That’s the first I knew about it. If he wasn’t feeling good, we wouldn’t have started him. But we had no indication. He was feeling fine after the pre-game warm-up.”
Semyon Varlamov came on for his first action in 2010 and played well, stopping 13 of 14 shots faced, the lone goal coming through multiple screens on a shot from the blue line. "He did a great job,” says Boudreau of Varlamov. “The goal that went in, he couldn’t see.”
Marcus Johansson converted a great pass from Chimera to cut the lead in the second period to 2-1, scoring his first NHL goal in the process. But that would end up the lone tally for the Capitals in this match.
This team is going to score. There's just too much talent here not too. Right now, this team looks like it takes the ice expecting to win, and with all the pre-season talk about the Stanley Cup and avenging last season's first round playoff loss, maybe the doldrums of playing regular season games just doens't have the same panache.
But they were outmuscled tonight. They lost physical battles. They weren't manhandled, but it wasn't far from it. "We had a tough time along the boards, but that happens against a good team like the Bruins," Jason Chimera said from a quiet locker room after the game.
Don't ya just once want to hear someone say that about the Caps? During the second intermission, I reminisced with a fellow blogger about the "old days" of Kelly Miller and Mike Ridley, when the Caps were less skilled than the squad assembled now, but were very rarely outworked or pushed around.
The Caps are built for speed, not mucking things up. You can't re-tool the entire roster -- nor should you -- when the formula was pretty good last season. But Boudreau and GM George McPhee are faced with a dilemma: How do you wake up a complacent, veteran -- though young -- team? Where do you find a little more toughness along the boards?
Is it too soon to shake things up a bit? Is it prudent? I don't know the answers, but I suspect McPhee and Boudreau might be working on it already.
THE GOOD: The penalty kill. 0-for-4, including :53 of 5-on-3 time. Guys are buying in, putting their bodies in passing lanes, blocking shots, picking up for their teammates. It's not going to last forever, but six games without a power play goal against is pretty darn impressive from a team that "can't play defense".
THE BAD: The first two goals were both because defensemen were caught out of position. The first goal Karl Alzner was pinching up and did not get back in time to help Tyler Sloan, who then played the resulting 2-on-1 poorly anyway. The second came on a big rebound off a dizzy Neuvirth where Jeff Schultz didn't play the body of the forward and paid for it.
THE UGLY: The power play. It's beyond problematic at this point. 0-for-4, with :24 of 5-on-3 for naught. No cohesion, no urgency, no passion. For all the success the penalty kill is having, that how badly the PP is failing. Granted, the squad is missing Mike Green while he's out, but the Caps can't use that as an excuse.
THE STATS: Johansson (1) from Chimera (1) and Hendricks (2) at 7:42 of 2nd.
NEXT GAME: Thursday in Boston at 7:00 pm.
CAPS NEWS NETWORK CAPS THREE STARS OF THE GAME:
3. Semyon Varlamov. 13 saves and one goal against in emergency relief effort.
2. Alex Semin. 10 shots, three hits, two takeaways. Most effective forward on the ice tonight.
1. Marcus Johansson. Score your first NHL goal, win the first star of the game.