Kalman: Flagging Bruins prove perfect guests to Capitals’ party

Matt Kalman
October 03, 2018 - 11:08 pm

Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports

On the eve of their season-opener on the road against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, the Bruins let themselves get baited into answering questions about the Capitals’ 15-minute banner-raising ceremony.

With the Capitals potentially distracted by the banner and reminiscences of the 2018 run to the Cup, could the Bruins take advantage of Washington?

Center Patrice Bergeron acknowledged there could be an opportunity for the Bruins to catch the Capitals with their heads in the rafters (alongside the banner) but also pointed out there would be a challenge at hand for him and his teammates.

“At the same time, it might happen, but we have to worry about what we can control, which is making sure we’re staying focused during that time that we’re going to have to wait in the locker room, and be ready for a good start,” he said before leaving for Washington on Tuesday. “Maybe sometimes those long ceremonies can go either way, there’ll be a lot of energy in the building for them, so hopefully we can feed off of it and realize that we should enjoy it.”

Oops.

The Capitals had every reason to be off their game when the puck dropped Wednesday. In addition to all the festivities to honor the Cup win, they lost forward Tom Wilson to a 20-game suspension earlier in the day. And they were playing their first game under new head coach Todd Reirden (although he’s familiar to them because he had been an assistant coach under Barry Trotz).

Instead of distractions the Capitals brought destruction. They scored twice in the first 1:47 of the game. If the Bruins weren’t waiting for the Capitals’ emotions to crash after the initial shot of adrenaline, it certainly looked like they were waiting around for something.

By the time Tuukka Rask was pulled by coach Bruce Cassidy 7:28 into the second period, the Capitals were up 5-0. They rolled to a 7-0 win, outshooting the Bruins 37-25 along the way.

The Bruins played as though they were being coached by Bizarro Cassidy. Bruce Cassidy likes to say he wants the Bruins to “be on time.” They were so late, they basically never showed up. Bruce Cassidy always says to manage the puck outside the circles in the offensive zone; the Bruins barely had the puck there, but when they did they coughed it up. Bruce Cassidy wants his players to defend with their feet, not their sticks. If the sight of Capitals players scoring goals while their Bruins counterparts reached out in an attempt to hook them wasn’t proof enough the Bruins weren’t applying their coach’s lessons, four stick penalties in the first 35:27 were enough to suggest the Bruins were playing defense with their skates jammed into the ice.

Various distractions for the Capitals aside, it shouldn’t have been a surprise Washington had its way with the Bruins. The NHL picked the perfect opponent for the Capitals’ opening of their title defense, considering the Capitals have now won 13 straight, including 10 in regulation, against the Bruins. Goaltender Braden Holtby has won 11 in a row in that span. Center Nicklas Backstrom, who had three assists Wednesday, has tortured the Bruins for 18 points (three goals, 15 assists) in 12 games since the start of the 2014-15 season.

The knee-jerk reaction will be to blame Rask, or the non-existent third line of Ryan Donato, David Backes and Sean Kuraly, or the lax defensive play of Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy and the entire defensive corps. There was plenty of blame for all 20 players, including back goaltender Jaroslav Halak (although Cassidy mentioned his 16-save relief performance made him the Bruin’ best player).

Once the blame has been digested, the Bruins can look ahead to 81 more games. They can start from scratch at the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. And after seemingly ignoring a laundry list of tenets of Cassidy’s philosophy against the Capitals, it’ll be vital for the Bruins to execute one more that applies to the time after a game – win or lose, they must turn the page and worry just about the next game.

Well, at least there won’t be any banner-raising ceremony in Buffalo.

Related: Bruins preview '18-19: Our experts predict where Bruins will finish & who will win the Cup

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