Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie immediately disputed the call, a whistle halting the team’s power play at a most inopportune time. Oshie was sent to the penalty box for hooking Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara with less than seven minutes left in a one-goal game, and while this was one of Washington’s least-penalized outings, the minor infractions and the consequences for them were ultimately the story.
The Capitals lost to the Bruins, 1-0, Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena, snapping Washington’s 14-game winning streak against Boston that dated back to March 2014. With the loss, the Capitals remain tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for second place in the Metropolitan Division with 62 points through 52 games, and this marked just the third time this season Washington has been shut out.
The Bruins didn’t give the Capitals much space, disrupting their zone entries for most of the night and limiting their quality chances. Coach Todd Reirden noted that while Washington got two goals right in front of the net in its previous game, a win Friday against the Calgary Flames, “We had to fight to get to that area [Sunday], and I don’t think we did it enough until the third period.” When the Capitals were able to get some sustained pressure in the final 10 minutes, drawing a hooking penalty by Boston defenseman Charlie McAvoy, they negated their power play just 36 seconds into it. Oshie hooked Chara, and though Washington tallied 11 shots in the third period alone, nearly doubling its total for the first two periods, the team’s comeback fell short.
“It was a little late in the game there, but having the power play, you can’t take that penalty there,” Oshie said. “I wasn’t happy with it, obviously, but either way, I got to find a way to not get my stick in there and maybe just live to fight another day.”
Oshie’s hook was Washington’s third penalty of the game, matching Boston’s total, but the Capitals have taken the most minor infractions in the league this season, which is partially to blame for the penalty kill’s struggles. So while Washington’s shorthanded unit weathered Dmitrij Jaskin’s offensive-zone hooking penalty 5:30 into the game and then Evgeny Kuznetsov’s slash seven seconds after that was killed off, Reirden was fed up with the stick penalties. He made that clear by taking ice time away from players who took bad penalties, and neither Kuznetsov nor Jaskin played another even-strength shift in the opening period. Kuznetsov’s penalty was his 20th minor this season, which is tied for seventh most in the NHL. Both players returned to the rotation in the second period.
“I think as you get past the all-star break and you start making a push toward the playoffs, that’s an area we have to get better in, as we’ve taken far too many minor penalties with our sticks,” Reirden said. “That’s been discussed and that’s the best thing for our team. We have to be more disciplined if we’re going to have success moving forward from here, and I thought the last 30 games is a good time to implement that.”
In part because Boston got five shots on its two power plays, the Bruins had a 16-5 edge in shots through 20 minutes, though neither team had scored. That was mostly a credit to goaltender Braden Holtby, who has typically been at his best against the Bruins. Entering Sunday’s matinee, he had a 1.85 goals against average with a .944 save percentage and a 16-2-0 record against Boston for his career. He has struggled of late, but coming off a 27-save performance against Calgary on Friday night to snap the Capitals’ seven-game skid, he played even better against the Bruins with a lot more action in front of him.
Seconds after Washington failed to score on its second power play of the game — the Capitals recorded just one shot in the two opportunities — David Krejci beat Holtby with a snap shot from the left faceoff circle after a cross-ice feed from Torey Krug. That was Boston’s 26th shot of the game, 10:43 into the second period, and the Capitals had peppered Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask with just eight pucks to that point. Washington wasn’t called for a penalty in the second period, but the team still bled scoring chances, fortunate that the deficit was just 1-0 through two periods.
“We started to play our game in the last period, and that’s not enough,” defenseman Michal Kempny said. “It’s as simple as that. Obviously it’s a very tough loss. We have to be better.”
While the Capitals got captain Alex Ovechkin back for this game — he served his one-game suspension from the NHL for skipping the All-Star Game on Friday night — Washington was without third-line center Lars Eller, who has an undisclosed “lower-body” injury. Reirden said he is hopeful it’s a short-term injury. The team also announced that defenseman Christian Djoos will play for its American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey for the next two games, a conditioning stint after he had left thigh surgery on Dec. 13 for compartment syndrome and hasn’t played since then.