On hockey

They barely got started

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / October 2, 2009

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It’s much too early to issue a wake-up call, but the Bruins definitely didn’t hear the alarm clock go off on the opening night of the season, when they showed up at the Garden ill-prepared to play 60 minutes - and ripe to be embarrassed by the Washington Capitals.

And were they ever embarrassed, 4-1, before a sellout 17,565 on Causeway Street. Save for the start of the first period, they were almost totally lacking. Top to bottom. Old players. Young players. Penalty killers. And, uh, power-play specialists.

Heck, if the Zamboni driver had been asked to make another sweep of the sheet, he might have caught what ailed the Bruins, who showed a flicker of emotion to begin the night and then just fizzled out altogether once Brooks Laich lifted a doorstep backhander by Tim Thomas for a 1-0 lead at 17:15 of the first period.

In the end, coach Claude Julien was left to praise only the fourth-line likes of Steve Begin, Shawn Thornton, and Byron Bitz.

The rest of his soldiers were damned by his praise.

“Now, if the other lines follow suit,’’ said Julien, as calm as could be after witnessing the season-opening stinker, “and do their job like they did tonight, we’ll be successful.’’

The disintegration actually began prior to Laich’s nifty backhand roof shot. With 17:00 gone in the first, the Bruins made a dog’s breakfast out of a line change, resulting in an extra skater, resulting in a penalty for having too many men on the ice (also known as the Full Lewie, in memory of one-year coach Dave Lewis).

Only 15 seconds later, Laich made the easy pot at the left post, spoon-fed at the back door by Nicklas Backstrom.

Instead of being a rallying point for the Bruins, with almost 43 minutes left to play, it triggered a retreat. They did nothing in the second period, other than get outshot, 12-7, and outscored, 1-0, on the first of two strikes by Alexander Ovechkin.

They then fell behind, 4-0, in the opening two minutes of the third (strikes by Laich and Ovechkin) and the Black and Gold’s going-through-the-motions cadence didn’t change until Thornton hooked up in a stirring punchfest with defenseman John Erskine.

“The first 10 minutes we played good hockey,’’ noted Marc Savard, who opened the season with a 0-0 -0, his No. 1 line with Milan Lucic and Marco Sturm cobbling together only seven shots, four of which made it to the net. “And then we threw it away and gradually played worse and worse.’’

“For some reason,’’ added new defenseman Derek Morris, “we got away from our game plan.’’

What they wanted was an aggressive forecheck, pinning the Capitals deep all night, hoping to strike off neutral zone transitions and chances that developed under the pressure they created in the attacking zone. What they got was a whole lot of looking at the Capitals taking the puck through the middle unimpeded and making plays after crossing Boston’s blue line.

The jawbreaker, Ovechkin’s second goal, came with Lucic badly failing to get his body on the flying Russian superstar as he zipped down the slot.

Ovechkin could all but be heard saying, “Boy, I say, boy, get away, you bother me!’’ as he Foghorn Leghorned by the turnstiling Lucic and got a knock on Tom Poti’s relay.

“Without throwing the blame on anyone in particular,’’ said Julien, “a lot of good players weren’t very good for us tonight. We made a lot of mental mistakes.’’

Case in point: Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara taking a hack at Ovechkin after the league’s No. 1 scorer put an aggressive hit on Mark Recchi at the end of the first period. Chara is the captain, and is right to defend teammates, but not when faced with a 2-0 deficit at the end of 40 minutes. It was time to commit Ovechkin’s No. 8 to memory and file for deferred retribution.

The “C’’ on Chara’s sweater in this case stood for “Clunker.’’ Only 16 seconds into the power play, with the help of a fresh ice sheet to start the third, Laich made it 3-0.

Thomas was not at his best, but the Vezina winner, for the most part, was really a victim of a teamwide lethargy. In fact, had he not made a number of sharp, top-of-his game stops, the final damage could have been far worse.

Phil Kessel? Not here, of course, and never to return, and no one should extrapolate that last season’s 36-goal scorer would have changed the night’s fortunes. Once beyond the middle of the first period, Rocket Richard might not have made a difference.

“Not the type of game that you want to play in front of your home fans,’’ mused Julien, “in your home opener.’’

Fact is, it was one that should have been banned in Boston. Bruins fans watching at home via Versus silently wished they subscribed to DirecTV, which would have left them in the dark, much the way their favorite team was.

“After a game like tonight, as a coach,’’ said Julien, “I’d be very disappointed if I had to go in and explain to them what really happened tonight.’’

A truth to be held self-evident, and a loss that was self-inflicted.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at

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