When at their best, the Boston Bruins play to the system, frustrating opposing teams with a consistent, effective defensive effort. The forwards embrace the end-to-end responsibility, helping block shots and limit scoring chances. Recently, although owning an impressive 18-4-3 record, the Bruins have had multiple lapses in their own end, resulting in blown leads and heartbreaking losses.
Amidst the defensive struggles, rookie defensemen Dougie Hamilton has experienced some growing pains. “He doesn’t feel like he’s had a lot of instruction, as far as defending in his own end,” coach Claude Julien said before Saturday’s game.
“When you’re a dominant player in junior hockey, which I know he was and I saw, you can get away with a lot of things, but here he’s playing against guys that are- a lot them are stronger than he is, so now he’s learning what it takes to be in the right position and stuff he can’t get away with.”
The Bruins opened the game with a rough shift spending too much time in their own end. With help from the first line forwards, they limited Washington’s shots to the outside, making things easier on backup goaltender Anton Khudobin.
The team caught a tough break early when defensemen Johnny Boychuk suffered an apparent left leg injury. Fortunately for the Bruins Boychuk returned minutes later, but didn’t look 100% on the ice.
Per usual, an effective breakout from Boston’s own end leads to the game’s first goal. Milan Lucic setup Nathan Horton for the perfect one-timer, who beat Michal Neuvirth high. Strong defense often transitions to offense, and Horton’s goal was a prime example of that.
David Krejci added another goal and the Bruins led 2-0 after the first period.
If there’s one thing the Bruins have done well in recent years, it’s playing with a lead. Ever since Claude Julien took over as head coach it has been crucial to the team’s success. The Bruins have already blown multiple third period leads this year, which is certainly a cause for concern.
Early in the second period, shortly after the Bruins killed off a penalty, Krejci, who typical plays well in all three zones, tried to center a puck to Boychuk in Boston’s own end. The risky pass proved costly, as the puck bounced off Boychuk’s skate and into the net; it was a bad bounce for both players, but cross-crease passes in your own end is never the best strategy.
Just as worries set in about another possible blown lead, Andrew Ference took matters into his own hands. Horton, who had an outstanding game, gave the perfect backhand pass to Ference just inside the blueline, the defensemen ripped a wicked wrist shot past Neuvirth, giving the Bruins a 3-1 lead; the goal was Ference’s first of the season.
The Bruins added a third period goal and defeated the Capitals 4-1 on home ice.
The defense played well for the full 60 minutes, which is key when trying to preserve leads and win hockey games. From Zdeno Chara to Adam Mcquaid, every defensemen stepped up in stopping a Capitals team that is desperate for points.
After the game, Julien discussed Ference and Mcquaid, a pairing that has faced much scrutiny given their recent dip in play. “They’ve been good. We’ve seen them in the past, they’ve been a good pair. So, they’re just finding their game, each one as individuals. I think Ference does a good job of supporting the attack. He finds those spots where he gets himself free and managed to score a big goal for us.”
The Bruins will be in Pittsburg tomorrow, where they’ll have a chance to exact revenge on a Penguins team that beat them Tuesday night.
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