Here’s what we learned in the Bruins' 1-0 win over the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on Sunday afternoon.
1. Finally, a victory over the Caps, but there are troubling signs for Zdeno Chara.
The Bruins won a big game and finally beat Washington for the first time in 15 tries, so there should be plenty of back-slapping and high-fiving as the B’s took care of their end of the bargain on a day when Boston dominated with wins from the Bruins, Celtics and, of course, the Patriots. Still, it’s not all sunshine and roses for the Black and Gold as once again there were some troubling signs with the game of Zdeno Chara.
The 41-year-old D-man looked slow at times and behind the play at many others as Alex Ovechkin repeatedly danced around him for scoring chances and offensive opportunities. There was a play late in the third period where Chara was late getting to the slot with the B’s protecting a one-goal lead, but was bailed out by a forward stepping in to help break up the play. It’s been three games since the bye week and NHL All-Star break and Chara has looked like he’s struggled in his skating game in each of those games. Truthfully, it's been going on for even longer than that.
Certainly, it was part of Bruce Cassidy’s choice to mention the captain along with everybody else on “D” in his pointed postgame comments after a loss to the Flyers last week. The inclusion of Chara in the need for “buy-in” from the Bruins defense was almost unheard of in the past, and extremely notable.
The question now is whether this is what Chara is going to be for the rest of this season and the playoffs, or whether a few games off sprinkled over the final few months will allow him to recover his best skating legs.
If there’s any hesitancy on Chara’s part to take a night or two off in the second half, he needs to get over that given the way he’s looked in some of Boston’s games lately. It could be that Father Time is just finally catching up with a future Hall of Famer, and there are going to be many nights when he’s struggling to keep up with the players he once handily shut down.
If that is the case, Chara is going to be exposed quickly in the playoffs, where you don’t get much recovery time and potential weak areas are exposed by good teams time and time again. One also wonders whether it would just be better to pair Chara with Brandon Carlo and make them a strict shutdown pair with limited offensive upside to their game, rather than task Chara with Charlie McAvoy as his partner.
They have not looked good defensively while skating together and never was it more apparent than when Alex Ovechkin went through both of them with ease in the first period for a Grade-A scoring chance. Tuukka Rask was able to bail out both defenders in that case (and really did again in the third period with a litany of saves) but there are going to be some nights when he might not be able to if they don’t figure out a way to freshen up Chara a little bit over the next few months. Tom Brady was able to use questions about his age as a motivating factor for the Super Bowl. The Bruins have to hope that Chara can do the same exact thing.
2. Tuukka Rask again came up big in a massive game for the Bruins.
This time it was 24 saves against a Washington Capitals team that he’s been customarily bad against in his tenure in Boston. The save number wasn’t a big one, so clearly the Bruins as a whole did a very good job of limiting chances, possessing the puck and holding down the shot totals through the first 40 minutes. But within those few shots, the Caps got some pretty good chances.
Ovechkin cut through the heart of Boston’s defense, Chara and McAvoy, for a clean look in close in the first period that Rask was able to turn away. Then he made more saves on a second-period Washington power play that immediately led to David Krejci’s goal.
But Rask was at his best in the third period when Washington turned up the heat and the B’s defense was doing a lot of scrambling in their own zone. Rask made 11 saves in total that period and never showed a second of weakness or anxiety in stopping everything that came his way even as Boston’s players were having trouble getting the puck out of the zone. His sweeping glove save on a wide-open Travis Boyd in the slot was the signature stop of that final 20 minutes. Rask was the team’s MVP in a big, big game. We’ve seen this before in December, January and February from Rask in his hot streaks, but maybe something is different with him this time around. Either way, we should get a chance to see that for ourselves a few months from now.
3. Granted some of this is about Braden Holtby’s mastery of the Bruins, but there’s also a continuing issue with the B's offense.
The Bruins got a whopping 39 shots on net in total and thoroughly dominated the first two periods, but only found the ability to finish off one perfect passing play with David Pastrnak, Torey Krug and Krejci teaming for Krejci’s 11th goal. The power play couldn’t punch through despite a couple of early chances in the first period. Once again, the B’s top line looked bedeviled against Holtby. It continues to be clear that they need to bring in more scoring punch from the outside if they hope to be any kind of force to be reckoned with in the playoffs. If they don’t, they look like a team that’s going to be hanging on for a lot of one-goal wins in the second half and that is a difficult way to live on a nightly basis.
*Rask made 24 saves, including 11 in the third period, and became the all-time winningest goalie in the long history of the Bruins (win No. 253, surpassing Cecil "Tiny" Thompson) with a signature performance in the shutout win.
*Krejci didn’t have a great game per se with only a fleeting influence in the offensive end and a bit of a tough night overall in the face-off circle. Still, he continues to show some finish with his goal in the second period and he won a big D-zone draw with less than 20 seconds left to help ice the victory.
*Cassidy called out his defense after a few lackluster games in a row and the Bruins defenders went out with their goalie and pitched a shutout against the defending Stanley Cup champs. It sure looks like those words were well chosen after the Thursday night loss to the Flyers.
*The Bruins got the shutout and kept the Capitals best players off the board, but it was another game where Chara didn’t have great skating legs and seemed behind the play more than usual while totaling as many giveaways (three) as shots on net. If this becomes a consistent pattern, it will be a concern for the B’s.
*One shot on net and 4-for-13 in the face-off circle for the Caps' Evgeny Kuznetsov signaled a tough day at the office for the playmaking forward against the Bruins.
*Anyone messing with a Boston sports team on Sunday was a big, fat minus as the Bruins, Celtics and Patriots all took it home with different levels of stakes on the line.
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