For the third straight game, the Capitals were slow out of the gates in Thursday night's contest against the Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena. The sluggish start ended up costing the Caps, who dropped a 4-2 decision to the Bruins, suffering their fourth loss in the last six games.
"The neutral zone has been a problem," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette. "Tonight, it was a big problem in the first period with regard to our turnovers and are we going to play offense or are we going to play defense when our decisions are poor."
The Caps went down a goal on the first shot in the first minute and were victimized on a bad bounce for another goal against later in the frame. In between, they turned the puck over a fair amount in their own end. On the plus side, the Washington penalty kill was strong again, killing off both Boston power play chances in the first.
Jeremy Lauzon staked Boston to a 1-0 lead just 33 seconds into the contest when his low point shot trickled through the five-hole of Caps goaltender Ilya Samsonov and wobbled just over the goal line.
With Boston putting some forechecking heat on the Capitals later in the period, Justin Schultz tried to rim the puck around the glass, but it clicked off a stanchion and bounded off the stick of B's winger Anton Blidh at 16:02, doubling the Boston advantage.
At period's end, the Bruins owned a 14-8 lead in face-offs and a lopsided 21-8 advantage in shot attempts.
"We leave that period with that [2-0] score," says Laviolette, "but what bothers me more about it is the chances that they generated from our execution. We're doing the right thing as we're crossing the red line, and it immediately turns back and it comes back into our end, and we're playing defense."
After Boston had the game's first two power plays, Washington got a pair of extra-man opportunities late in the first, the second of which was a carryover into the second. Early in the second, the Caps got a third straight kick at the power play can. It did not go well.
Boston's Brad Marchand scored a dazzler of a shorthanded goal to expand the Boston lead to 3-0. Marchand carried into Washington ice, deked Schultz, patiently waited for Samsonov to commit, then quickly beat him with a backhander at 4:09.
Midway through the second, the Bruins ran into more penalty trouble when Blidh was boxed for both roughing and slashing Lars Eller. Late in the first half of that penalty, Jakub Zboril also went to the box for the second time in the period, giving the Caps an extended 5-on-3 opportunity.
Four seconds after Zboril was seated, the Caps were on the board. T.J. Oshie won the offensive zone draw to John Carlson, who put it on a tee for Alex Ovechkin. From high in his left dot office, Ovechkin pounded home a one-timer to make it a 3-1 game at 10:08. Ovechkin's 20th goal of the season was also his 266th career power-play goal, pushing him one ahead of Brett Hull for sole possession of second place on the NHL's all-time list.
Nineteen seconds later, the Caps pulled a goal closer on another 5-on-3 strike. After gaining the zone, Oshie left the puck for Carlson, then headed to the office for a temp assignment in Ovechkin's office. Carlson again put it on the tee, and Oshie rifled it home from the left dot at 10:27.
But that was as good as it would get for the Caps on this night. They had their chances the rest of the game, but execution was lacking in some instances and Boston rookie netminder Jeremy Swayman was solid; he didn't permit many second chances. Swayman finished with 31 saves and his second win in as many NHL starts.
Late in the third, Boston went on its fourth power play of the night, and this time it finally broke through, snapping a string of 15 straight successful missions from the Washington penalty killing outfit. With 25 seconds left on a Daniel Carr hooking minor, Craig Smith scored to make it a 4-2 game with 3:05 left in the game.
When it was all said and done, the special teams battle was even and the difference in the game was the two 5-on-5 goals Boston scored in the first frame.
"There is no special potion," says Carlson of the Caps' recent first-period struggles. "I think if anything - mentality-wise - you can try to keep it a little bit more simple. In the second and in the third, we started playing a little more simple out of our zone and a little more simple through the neutral zone, and we found ourselves in their zone a lot more. I think that's probably a mentality thing that we've talked about and we obviously need to improve on."