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Bad First Dooms Caps in 7-3 Loss to B's

Caps suffer third straight Monday night defeat, losing in Boston for the first time since March of 2014

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Thirty-eight games into the 2019-20 NHL season, the Caps have had only a handful of clunkers. But when they have them, they tend to crop up on Mondays.

For the third straight Monday in December, and for the fourth time in seven regulation losses this season, the Capitals found themselves on the wrong end of a lopsided score in a 7-3 setback at the hands of the Bruins in Boston.

Two nights after successfully staring down seven Tampa Bay power play chances in a Saturday win in Washington, the Caps doubled down on their lack of discipline on Monday night in the first period against the Bruins. It didn't go well.

Video: WSH Recap: Ovechkin scores in loss to Bruins

Boston scored a pair of power-play goals among four first-period tallies, the first of what would be five straight goals from the B's in the final game for both teams in front of the NHL's holiday break.

"We had some poor execution on a few plays," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "and then we're forced to take penalties when [the Bruins] are getting great opportunities, and they capitalized. So far too many penalties obviously, and that's been - if I had to point to one negative from [38] games into it, that would be it. You know they've got a good power play and they were able to convert."

Washington's penalty killing outfit has been among the league's best for most of the season, but the Caps are also guilty of over-relying on that unit at times. Playing for the third time in four nights, the Capitals did themselves no favors by taking five minor penalties in a span of just under 16 minutes in the first period.

The woes began early. Nick Jensen went off for hi-sticking just 90 seconds into the first period, and the Caps killed that one off neatly. But nine seconds into a Radko Gudas hooking minor, Jake Debrusk scored on the Boston power play at 5:37, staking the B's to a lead they would retain for the remainder of the evening.

Video: Postgame | December 23

A turnover in neutral ice fueled the Bruins' transition game, and Brad Marchand scored to make it 2-0 at 13:29. Just 27 seconds after that, Andres Bjork's one-timer from the right circle beat Caps goalie Braden Holtby to make it a 3-0 game.

The Marchand and Bjork tallies would be Boston's only 5-on-5 tallies of the night, but the Caps hadn't bottomed out yet. Soon after matching minors had the two teams playing 4-on-4 for a couple of minutes, Washington put itself in further penalty peril by taking two simultaneous minors, a tripping violation on Jakub Vrana and a slashing call on Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Washington's penalty killers couldn't manage to kill off the full, two-minute 5-on-3; they were victimized by Patrice Bergeron's nifty net front deflection of David Krecji's shot from the left half wall at 18:57, and the Caps went to the room in a four-goal ditch after 20 minutes of play.

When they returned for the second, Ilya Samsonov came on in relief of Holtby. Monday's game marks just the second time in 22 career appearances against Boston that the B's were able to manage more than three goals against Holtby, and the first time they've been able to drive him to the bench.

Video: Reirden Postgame | December 23

With a couple of early power plays of their own in the second period, the Caps had a chance to crawl back into the contest, but it wasn't to be. Charlie Coyle scored on a shorthanded breakaway at 6:55 of the second stanza, on the first shot Samsonov faced in the game.

Six of the Caps' seven regulation losses this season have come by three or more goals, and Coyle's goal marked the first time in 2019-20 that Washington was staring at a five-goal deficit. To their credit, the Caps have never quit in any of their previous lopsided losses, and they didn't on Monday in Boston, either.

Video: WSH@BOS: Ovechkin wrists puck by Rask

The Caps held the Bruins to just two shots on net in the second - none of them at even strength - and they set up camp in the Boston end for much of the frame. Their persistence finally paid off when Alex Ovechkin netted his 23rd goal of the season at 14:35, at the end of a sustained foray in the attack zone.

Shortly after a Washington power play ended late in the third, Lars Eller caught a piece of a Jakub Vrana shot from high in the Boston zone, tipping it past Tuukka Rask to make it a 5-2 game with 4:31 left.

Video: WSH@BOS: Eller deflects in Vrana's shot

Just over a minute later, David Krejci's empty-netter made it 6-2, and then Garnet Hathaway answered for the Caps, scoring off a fortuitous back wall bounce at 17:47. Bergeron added another empty-netter in the final minute to account for the 7-3 final.  

In the end, the Caps' poor start cost them this one. Playing for the third time in four nights, and playing on the road against an elite and hungry team that Washington has beaten routinely for the last half decade, they couldn't expect to get away with taking so many penalties in the first after taxing their penalty killing outfit on Saturday night against the Lightning.

Video: WSH@BOS: Hathaway chips home late goal

"We did very well the other night," says Eller, "but you can't expect us to keep to kill seven every night. Nobody really does that game after game, so we've got to find a way to stay out of the box, get the stick infractions down. That's one area we can improve, and we have 100 percent control over that.

"Other than that, I really like our team. I mean, it's a bad game and overall we had a good first half [of the season]. So, not too worried."

And at the end of the night, it comes down to more of a bad first period than a bad game. Ovechkin led the way and set the example in that regard, playing with verve and fire from the outset of the second, but everyone was on board. Even with a three-day break looming, no one quit when the Caps were down by five.

"I'm proud of these guys for what they've done," says Reirden, "for our record and what we've accomplished up through the Christmas break. It's outstanding. And one thing you won't see from our team is that they're going to stop trying. And there's not one guy that stopped trying until the very end, and we're playing it out. And I'm proud of our guys for that."

The Caps are now 1-4-1 on Mondays this season, but they've got the next two Mondays off.

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