Paul Carey’s arrival from Providence didn’t give the Boston Bruins a promising outlook on the injury front heading into Saturday’s tilt with the league-leading Washington Capitals at TD Garden. The confirmation of Torey Krug going on injured reserve and Patrice Bergeron missing his first game of the season put Bruce Cassidy’s squad — facing their second game in as many nights — in a tough spot.
The banged-up Bruins, fresh from snapping their four-game skid in Toronto 24 hours prior, persevered without their top centerman and offensive defenseman among others. But they had to settle for only one point after T.J. Oshie’s tying-tally late in regulation and Jakub Vrana’s shootout-winner sparked the Caps to a 3-2 win.
Here’s what we learned after the Bruins took three of a possible four points in their weekend slate.
Jaroslav Halak stood on his head.
The Bruins arguably trotted out their most inexperienced lineup of the young season. Then factor in a hungry Caps squad fresh off a tough loss to the Habs Friday night in Washington.
Bruce Cassidy’s team needed Halak to come through in their second game of a back-to-back. The journeyman netminder proverbially stood on his head to keep the Bruins in prime position for two points.
The Bruins bought into closing things out in regulation — unlike Tuesday’s loss to the Florida Panthers where they blew a four-goal third-period lead. Yet, even with Halak making a handful of spectacular highlight-reel saves, Cassidy’s side couldn’t give their goalie a little more breathing room, nor could they make a timely clear out of the defensive zone prior to Oshie’s tally with under a minute left in regulation.
“He was our best player by far,” Cassidy said of Halak’s following his 42-save outing. “Disappointing that we couldn’t finish it, because I thought in the third period we really bought into what we need to do compared to the Florida game for example. We didn’t give them much at all. In fact, going the other way I think Krech [David Krejci] hit a post late, who knows how the games goes if that trickles in…obviously on the tying goal we didn’t get the clear we needed in that situation.”
Halak declined to talk to reporters postgame. His play did all the talking on this night. His teammates were happy to heap his praise even after the disappointing result.
“He was awesome. He doesn’t deserve a loss like that,” said Charlie Coyle, who extended his point streak to fourth straight games following his first-period tally.
“You know, he played great; he came up huge early on — and the whole game really. But they had their pushes and we kind of broke down defensively in our own zone. Pucks came through and he was able to shut the door. [He] kept us in the lead — and kept us in the game — so he was great for us.”
The Bruins, while out-shot 44-23, skated neck and neck with the heavy Capitals. They needed Halak to steal the show, yet he wasn’t the only Bruin who stood out during this spirited Eastern Conference tilt.
Charlie McAvoy shined against Washington’s top line.
It’s rare when two of the three stars come from the losing side. Halak earned one of the stars with his stellar outing. Oshie earned another after forcing overtime.
Yet, McAvoy earned the game’s first star following his first multi-point night of the season.
McAvoy’s poise and assertiveness proved beneficial in all three zones against the Caps’ top line of Ovechkin, Evgeni Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson.
A timely pinch led to Coyle’s tally.
— NESN (@NESN) November 17, 2019
He added another assist after David Pastrnak banked home his initial shot off the boards for his 17th of the season 3:30 into the second.
this may sound completely insane and utterly unbelievable to you but just hear me out:
David Pastrnak scored pic.twitter.com/rPyPmtXZEt
— Yahoo Sports NHL (@YahooSportsNHL) November 17, 2019
But McAvoy’s biggest contributions came in Boston’s defending end. Whether he stopped a dynamic goal-scorer in Ovechkin on a backcheck or engaged physical pleasantries with the enigmatic Wilson, the former Boston University standout stayed cool under Washington’s offensive pressure.
Great job by Charlie McAvoy to close in on Alex Ovechkin and break up a prime scoring chance. pic.twitter.com/pwilAKGGAy
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) November 17, 2019
“The level of competition tends to bring out the best in Charlie,” Cassidy said about McAvoy. “We certainly saw that tonight. We needed it against a heavier group.”
“If you’re going to play teams like that you have to be physically up to the task,” McAvoy added. “So I took it very seriously, and I tried to play hard on those guys.”
McAvoy had an eventful 23:23 against the Caps. But the Bruins left TD Garden one point short.
What can the Bruins do to cure their OT and shootout woes?
The Bruins engaged in a spirited 60 minutes against a talented and physical Capitals bunch. The 3-on-3 overtime provided plenty of back and forth scoring chances but didn’t yield a result.
Shootouts have become a common thread of late on Causeway Street, even if they’re arrived at in different fashions. The Bruins came from two goals down against the Flyers while relinquishing third-period leads against the Capitals and Panthers. The outcome was the same in all of them.
Coyle notched Boston’s second shootout goal of the year in Round 1. Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and David Krejci all had a chance to seal a victory, but couldn’t. Nicklas Backstrom evened things up in Round 3, and Braden Holtby stopped Chris Wagner following Vrana’s tally in Round 5 to put the Bruins at 0-4 in the shootout this season.
Boston’s 0-1 mark in the 3-on-3 overtime puts them at a combined 0-5 during the extra session. Is that record worth stressing over, though? Yes, they want to find some sort of cure for their lack of success in overtime and shootouts. But Cassidy isn’t stressing over those early struggles.
“What’s happened in the shootout, right when you get in all alone, we’re more of a volume team, even though we have high-end skill, it would seem in the short sample size. It’s now growing into a larger sample size. So it’s something we’re looking at, but we’re not going to over-analyze,” said Cassidy.” Every day, it’s been so much time in practice we forget about the rest of the games that I feel are more important for us down the road, but we do need to address it. We have, but maybe we need a little bit more time on that.”