One of the arguments against using NHL players in the Olympics is some of the best teams end up struggling after the Olympics due to the mental and physical fatigue Olympians tend to suffer from following the games.
In their first few games following the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the Bruins seemed to be a good example of the post-Olympic lag argument. The same Boston team that entered the Olympic break with wins in nine of its last 13 games and points in 11 of 13 games emerged from the break with a loss to the Sabres (the worst team in the league) followed by a loss to the Capitals and a rough start against the Rangers.
But the Bruins turned things around quickly. They were able to beat the Rangers and followed that win up with dominant victories over the Panthers and Capitals.
Thursday night’s 3-0 win over the Capitals might have been the best Boston effort since the break. Although Washington played a terrible game and only managed 16 shots on net, the Bruins did not allow Washington’s poor showing to detract the Bruins from their game plan. They scored twice in the second and sealed the win with an empty-net goal at the end of the third while playing clean hockey in their own end.
“We held [the Capitals] to 13, 14 shots, and not only that but we were pretty responsible defensively,” said Bruins forward Gregory Campbell, who scored the first goal of the night. “We were really conscious of having really good back-pressure, so that’s where we want to get to. Our offensive output has been really good lately but it’s our defensive game that we’re trying to clean up. I mean, it’s a strength of ours, that’s why we win most games so that was a good showing tonight.”
The Bruins also had a good showing from a discipline standpoint, as Boston managed to stay out of the box. The Capitals have the second-best power play in the league and scored twice on the man-advantage in their 4-2 win over the Bruins earlier in March. The Bruins did not take any penalties on Thursday.
The game featured continued offense from Loui Eriksson, who played in the first three games after the Olympic break but sat out against the Panthers with an infected cut from the cold tub in Sochi. Eriksson recorded points in four of seven games leading up to the Olympic break, but was held off the scoresheet in the first two games after the Olympics. Like the Bruins, he seems to be getting back on track. Eriksson recorded two assists in the win over the Rangers, and he was at the forefront of many offensive opportunities for the Bruins in Thursday’s win over the Capitals.
Eriksson found the back of the net in the second period when he collected a pass from fellow Swede Carl Soderberg down low and beat Washington goaltender Braden Holtby top left corner to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead with 11:41 remaining in the second period.
“I think we’re starting to see the smart player that we all talked about at the beginning of the year, both ways,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “He makes smart plays and he also defends well. He’s been a really god player, and I just saw him starting to find his game before the Olympic break. I saw him play well at the Olympics, and it’s followed up here since he’s been back.”
And although the Bruins might have benefited this week from games against subpar opponents, the Bruins will face a steeper task Saturday when they travel to Florida to face Tampa Bay. The key to that game, however, will be continuing to put together the types of efforts Boston has shown in its past few games.
“I thought the last few games have been a step forward and tonight was even more so,” said forward Patrice Bergeron. “We played for the full 60. We played through our system, our whole back pressure was great, and we didn’t give them too many odd man rushes. We played well, we played tight and just respected our system. When we do that, good things happen.”