Capitals 4, Bruins 1


Bruins soundly beaten in lackluster opener

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / October 2, 2009

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It was only one game. And as coach Claude Julien promised, you can throw down a fistful of bucks in Las Vegas that Games 2 through 82 will be far better showings than last night’s 4-1 season-opening thud.

But for the 17,565 fans at TD Garden and the thousands more who tuned in on Versus - albeit not via DirecTV, given the dust-up between the network and the satellite provider - the sight of the Bruins getting rolled like a barrel over Niagara Falls didn’t serve as a pleasant entrance to the 2009-10 season after a summer of hibernation.

The first 10 minutes? Pretty good. Lots of pace. Good back-and-forth action.

The last 10 minutes? Also entertaining, with Patrice Bergeron scoring his first goal of the season and Shawn Thornton recording what is sure to be the first of many fistic wins when he got the better of tough Washington defenseman John Erskine.

In between? A whole lot of nothing, quite uncharacteristic for a proud bunch of Bruins.

“This will not be the team you’re going to see night after night this year,’’ said Julien. “That much I can guarantee.’’

In the days leading up to the opener, Julien cautioned that it might take some time for the Bruins’ game to come to them. They had only three practices leading into last night. They have centerpiece players in David Krejci, Marco Sturm, Matt Hunwick, and Andrew Ference returning from major injuries. As the team with the second-best record in the league last season, the target will be on all things Bruin throughout the year as opponents aim to take down the East’s beasts.

Combine those factors with last night’s opponent: the Flying Ovechkins. Then add in a month’s worth of mistakes, and it’s no surprise that the season opener turned into an embarrassment.

“Without throwing blame at anybody in particular, we had a lot of good players that were not very good for us tonight,’’ Julien said. “There were a lot of mental mistakes.

“You hope to take this game and use it as a learning experience. The guys need to learn from this. I don’t think that’s the kind of game you want to play in your own building in front of your own fans, and certainly not as a home opener. It’s certainly not what you want to demonstrate.’’

The errors:

■ An ill-advised first-period toss by Dennis Wideman toward the bench during a line change. Confusion follows, too many men hit the ice, and Brooks Laich buries a goal 15 seconds into the power play to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead.

■ A poor decision by Zdeno Chara to stick up for a teammate at the end of the second period. Alex Ovechkin flattens Mark Recchi with an open-ice hit, prompting the Boston captain to deliver a cross-check to the Washington left wing. The Capitals start the third period with a power play. Sixteen seconds in, Laich gains position in the crease and sweeps in the rebound of a Nicklas Backstrom shot to give Washington a 3-0 advantage.

■ Milan Lucic has no answer for Ovechkin’s forechecking ferocity. Ovechkin muscles a backchecking Lucic off the puck, takes a pass from Tom Poti (the defenseman had dangled deep into the zone and around Ference), and threads a shot through Thomas (30 saves) at 1:57 of the third. It’s Ovechkin’s second strike of the night and puts the Bruins down by four goals.

Too many goofs against too good of a club.

“When you play teams like Washington, a very good team that takes advantage of mistakes, those things come back to haunt you,’’ Julien said.

On the spare occasions the Bruins controlled the puck, they didn’t take care of it very well. They put 20 shots, most of the cream puff variety, on Jose Theodore. Aside from some strong shifts by the fourth line of Thornton, Steve Begin, and Byron Bitz, there was little cycling and even less traffic in front of Theodore. The No. 1 line of Lucic, Marc Savard, and Sturm combined for two shots.

The Bruins went on the power play five times (the new-look first unit featuring Chara and Derek Morris at the points, with Savard, Sturm, and Michael Ryder down low), but landed only one shot on net.

If not for a goal by Bergeron at 7:56 of the third - the center blew past Erskine, who was trying to hold the point, and threw two heavy fakes on Theodore before tucking in a backhander - the Bruins would have had zero offensive presence.

It’s telling that Krejci, a question mark to dress last night, was one of the best Bruins (two shots in 17:24 of ice time). Even more telling that Bitz, late in the second period, had perhaps the team’s best scoring chance when he ripped off a shot from the slot.

“Probably one of those nights when we had too many good players at their worst,’’ Julien said.

And so they’ll move on, eager to forget last night’s dud. They host Carolina tomorrow, and one trait of last season’s club was that it nearly always corrected mistakes and rebounded from stinkers.

“We have to execute,’’ Wideman said. “There were times last year when we didn’t execute. We didn’t have much going tonight. But we’ll be ready.’’

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