WASHINGTON — In a city that has grown accustomed to bizarre and outrageous statements of late, the Bruins opened their 2018-19 season in our nation’s capital Wednesday night with their own expression of bizarre and outrageous — a listless, error-filled, at times mindless flop of a first-night performance that had bored Capitals fans streaming out of the building midway through the third period.
On a night they lifted their Cup banner to the rafters, the Capitals looked like the new millennium’s version of the mid- and late-’80s Oilers.
The Bruins, pasted with a 7-0 loss, looked like the ’62 Mets, all but asking themselves, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”
Not by the looks of what began to unfold with the 7:50 p.m. puck drop before a national TV audience and no doubt legions of dumbstruck B’s fans. Not by the looks of a slapstick performance that saw the Capitals need a mere 24 seconds for T.J. Oshie to rip home a short-side slapper on Tuukka Rask. The beatdown was underway.
And through it all, perhaps most inexplicable of all, the sons of Bruce Cassidy could barely summon an ounce of competitive spirit. A franchise that long has staked its claim and pride on grit and vigor played with little smarts and less fortitude, leaving a dismayed Cassidy correctly to note that his backup goalie, newcomer Jaroslav Halak, was the club’s player of the night.
“Our lack of competitive spirit . . . it’s opening night . . . guys [ought to] be a little hungrier to play,” said Cassidy, going through the parade of horribles after the loss. “We got ourselves behind the eight-ball early, clearly weren’t ready to go, and it just carried on from there.”
It was the largest margin of defeat ever suffered by the Bruins in a season opener. It was also their first shutout in Game 1 since a 2-0 blanking by Montreal in 1955, back when the Canadiens were paced by icons such as Jean Beliveau and Rocket Richard and Boom Boom Geoffrion.
Instead of Jump Street, the Bruins showed up here busted flat in Baton Rouge. Team captain Zdeno Chara, sensing the Black-and-Gold melancholy, tried to stir the troops early with a bone-rattling, big-boy check on Oshie.
But again, there was no pulse, no follow through. In fact, a misplay by Chara and Rask resulted in a gimme goal by Evgeny Kuznetsov at 1:47 and it was 2-0.
“They came out hard and we just didn’t have any pushback,” said Brad Marchand, who at least was chafed enough to trigger a fight with Lars Eller after the ex-Hab went into showboat mode upon scoring the seventh Capitals goal. “We got down early, so . . . you have to be able to push back in situation like that, 2-0. We didn’t do that tonight.”
Work ethic and competitiveness, said Marchand “are kind of the backbone of our team.” True. Most nights. But not here. Not against a Cup-defending team that arrived with pupils fully dilated, sticks ablaze, and minds fixed on filling up the Boston net like apple baskets in a Harvard orchard.
The Bruins were particularly inept at shutting off passing lanes in their own end, the Capitals handling the puck in their offensive zone the way a chef wields a razor-sharp knife at a Japanese steakhouse. Result: four goals on six power-play opportunities. Bruins sliced and diced.
One of those goals was a classic Alexander Ovechkin one-time slapper from the top edge of the left-wing faceoff circle that was in the scorebook even before Ovechkin put the hammer down on career snipe No. 608. After winning the Cup in June, Ovechkin partied long, hard, and then harder. But he was clear-eyed on the slapper and it was yet one more sobering moment for the Bruins.
“Not the game you want to have coming into the season,” Chara said. “A lot to think about, a lot to improve.”
Truth is, they never found a foothold, beyond the stability that Halak provided (13 shots, 11 saves) after moving in for Rask with the score at 5-0. Cassidy contemplated the hook at 4-0, opted to let his Finnish stopper try to get his legs, but then had no choice when the carnage reached 5-0. He departed after yielding three goals on three straight shots over 3:11.
“That fifth goal [Kuznetsov’s second of the night] goes off my skate, a bad-angle shot,” said Rask, “so there’s no choice for a coach. As a goalie, you’re out there battling as long as you can. Coach makes the decision and I have nothing against that.”
Game 2 for the no-pulse Bruins is Thursday night in Buffalo. Cassidy planned to go with Halak in that one, but left here unsure whether to stick with Plan A or roll again with Rask.
Otherwise, likely no changes in personnel. Torey Krug (ankle) will need at least 2-3 more weeks, and a performance like the one here would not be the pathway for raw rookie Urho Vaakanainen to make his NHL debut on the Boston backline.
Instead, Cassidy has to hope what went on here, though now a piece of inglorious history in the Black-and-Gold record book, will be forgotten quickly with a visit to Buffalo.
“I expected us to play the way typically the Bruins do,” said Cassidy, whose charges, after a slow start last season, finished with 50 wins and 112 points. “We are hard to play against. We defend the slot. We are on top of people. But none of that happened tonight.”