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On Hockey

The problem in front keeps increasing

By Kevin Paul Dupont
April 20, 2012
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WASHINGTON - Four games. Each decided by one goal. The Bruins yet to score while on a power play.

If the Bruins are marching toward a second Stanley Cup in two seasons, it’s clear now that they’ll be doing it on tiptoe rather than in full, bold, Clydesdale-like stride. Limited to a lone goal for a third time in the series, the defending Cup champs on Thursday night suffered a 2-1 loss to the Capitals at the Verizon Center, and the best-of-seven first-round series is now tied at two wins apiece. Your granddaddy’s perennial fold-up-and-go-home Capitals aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

The Bruins lacked nothing in shots (45 on star rookie Braden Holtby), but were unable to establish solid, productive net-front presence, falling behind at the start of the first period and eventually losing after Alexander Semin drilled home a sizzling wrister with the Capitals on a power play late in the second.

If anyone had any doubt if the lack of net-front presence was Boston’s bugaboo for the night, any second thought of deeper analysis was swept away by coach Claude Julien.

“That’s the reason we didn’t win,’’ he said. “I mean, you shoot 45 on net . . . there were a lot of loose pucks that they cleared and we didn’t get to. Our net-front presence has to be better, and that’s not just screening. If you’re not scoring [with 45 shots], it probably means there’s not a good enough commitment in that area [around the net] - and until we get that we are going to struggle to score goals.’’

The Capitals, meanwhile, didn’t do so much scoring themselves. In fact, through four games, each side has tallied seven times. A key difference, though, has been lead time. The Bruins again in Game 4 didn’t have a second of it, the third time in the series they’ve posted 0:00 in that category. The Capitals led for 33:07 and have worked with an advantage for 72:13 over the last three games. The Bruins have led for but 14:51 the entire series.

True, it’s the playoffs, and everyone expects tight scoring, close games, limited margin of error. But this tight? The playoffs opened last Thursday, and from the drop of the puck the team that last spring dismissed the Canadiens, Flyers, Lightning, and Canucks has had precious little breathing room.

“We played an OK game,’’ noted veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. “But we just didn’t put on enough pressure to score goals. Just not enough rebounds. Obviously, if we were three, four, even five goals ahead in a game, that’s always the case. But we are a patient team and we’re used to tight games. We had a lot of shots, but we let him see most of them, and we didn’t get in there enough for rebounds.’’

Through four games, here are the Boston goal scorers: Rich Peverley (2), Chris Kelly, Benoit Pouliot, Daniel Paille, Brian Rolston, and Zdeno Chara. Of the bunch, only Peverley is expected to score. If things were different, we’d be pointing to those guys and lauding the club’s secondary scoring. But the primary scorers have been primarily absent. Five of the top six forwards - Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand - have donuts in the goal column for the four games.

Game 5 will be Saturday afternoon (3 p.m.) at the Garden, with the return match here on Sunday (time to be determined). The Capitals on Saturday again will have the services of top center Nicklas Backstrom, scratched Thursday while serving a one-game suspension for a match penalty he received at the end of Game 3 for smacking Peverley across the face with his stick.

Without Backstrom, the Capitals were as expected, challenged to generate any offensive flow and generally lacking confidence with the puck. Over the course of the first 20 minutes, they were outshot, 14-3. That said, they held a 1-0 advantage for a stretch of 11:50 in the first period, thanks in large part to Holtby again doing an outstanding job of closing off the Washington net.

The one big boo-boo the Bruins made in the first period led to the Washington lead at 1:22, with the Bruins’ defensive pairing of Chara and Andrew Ference going full Keystone Kops. Big Z in particular roamed far from his left side, going to the right wall at center ice in an attempt to gain possession of the puck. But a quick transition left the Capitals to bolt out on a two-on-one break against Rolston, and Marcus Johansson was left with the easy putaway on the right side, smacking home a quick relay by Brooks Laich from about 10 feet.

“You give up the first goal,’’ said Julien, sounding slightly exasperated, “and you’re playing catch-up hockey again. End of the night, the results aren’t what you wanted.’’

Peverley, who scored Boston’s first goal in Game 3, connected for the equalizer at 13:12. The speedy Boston right winger skated nearly unimpeded from his own blue line, carrying through the neutral zone and into the offensive end, where he finished off by wristing in a short-range (12-15 foot) shot that Holtby should have handled.

Peverley’s shot was the 11th the Bruins put on net. Holtby turned back the next 34, including a beaut by Bergeron in the slot as the buzzer blew. It hit Holtby high and then he gloved it.

“I got good wood on it,’’ lamented Bergeron. “We’ve got to find the back of the net.’’

The Capitals came around big time in the second period, and with 1:17 left to go they moved ahead for a second time, this time with Semin ripping home a wrister from the left dot. The Capitals in possession of the puck with Bergeron in the box for hooking Laich in front of Holtby, the slick Semin had only Chara between him and Tim Thomas when he unloaded the shot that picked the top corner, glove side. Few of the game’s forwards have that accuracy, and fewer can deliver such a shot with that kind of mustard. Capitals, 2-1.

“I was reading it blocker,’’ said Thomas, meaning that he was protecting the short side of the net. “I’m not sure what it did . . . you’d have to look at the replay.’’

It’s probably worth a second look, but not necessarily by Thomas, but rather the majority of Boston forwards who could use a shooter’s guide to success right now.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.

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