Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports

Capitals 4, Bruins 3: Bruce Cassidy's first 'off' night

Ty Anderson
December 29, 2017 - 12:13 am

In Washington for their season series finale with a Capitals team that’s taken 11 straight from the Bruins, it was a strong final two periods from the Capitals, capped by an Alex Ovechkin shootout goal in a 4-3 final, that put an end to the B's five-game win streak. 

This was not your typical get-crushed-and-make-it-a-game-late kind of letdown you’ve been accustomed to with meetings between the B’s and Caps though.

It was actually the opposite. 

Going up against a goaltender they had not held a lead of any sort against in over 344 minutes of hockey, the Bruins opened the night with two goals on the Capitals’ Braden Holtby in the opening 2:12 of the first period. First David Backes buried one from in tight and then Noel Acciari finished an impressive net-front effort just 49 seconds later. It was a deserved reward in a period that came with a 14-to-10 shot advantage for the Bruins, and really seemed to take a lifeless-looking D.C. squad out of their element.

But when the Capitals turned their game around with a middle frame awakening, it was a series of bizarre coaching moves from Bruce Cassidy that helped spark the B’s fall.

When Lars Eller brought the Caps back within one with a goal at the 12:30 mark of the second, it appeared that Brett Connolly was offside on the entry. But Cassidy opted not to challenge, and simply ride with his club with the hopes that they’d protect the lead.

And it didn’t take long for that non-decision to come back and haunt Cassidy’s club, naturally, as Ovechkin rifled a power-play goal home just 1:36 after the Eller tally.  

The Bruins regained the lead behind Backes’ second goal of the night, scored 7:19 into the third period, but the Capitals once again answered, this time with a Connolly goal scored four minutes later. It was on that goal that Cassidy decided to issue his challenge, though, with the Capitals appearing a tad offside on another entry.

The truth is that this potential offside appeared to have more gray area than the one they opted not to challenge, and without an offside found, the Bruins were assessed a penalty, and in the third period of a tied game. This, for Cassidy, was all-around odd.

There’s no doubt that the stakes of that challenge were obviously higher -- it was late in the third period of a tied game whereas the non-challenge came with the Bruins still holding a one-goal edge in the middle frame, and with the game not yet out of control -- and that it was less ‘obvious’ than the potential offside on the first Washington goal.

This seemed to be the moment getting the better of Cassidy, which is something that we’ve rarely said throughout his 63-game tenure as the B’s head coach.

Cassidy also struggled to find meaningful ice time for both Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork, two players that have played a strong, annoying game of late, and two players that probably could have taken advantage of an at times sluggish-skating D.C. defense. Bjork finished with 6:53 of time on ice, and had just three shifts in the third period. DeBrusk was right behind him, at 9:05, and logged just four shifts in the third frame. Neither player struggled to create chances or got hemmed into their own end for prolonged stretches, making their incredibly limited usage all the more bizarre.

The questionable decisions continued into the shootout, and in a must-score situation, when Cassidy opted to go with Riley Nash as his third shooter.

Or, in other words, Nash went before the likes of Patrice Bergeron or Charlie McAvoy.

In Cassidy’s defense, Nash entered the night with a 6-for-13 career mark in shootouts, while Bergeron has missed nine straight shootout attempts, and is just 3-for-21 dating back to 2014. But skipping on McAvoy, the player that’s won you two shootouts this year, seems like Cassidy betting against the odds for the sake of it.

But I suppose at the end of the day he’s earned the right to take his gambles, as even with the loss, the Bruins hold a 38-18-7 record with Cassidy at the helm. 

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