By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — After losing his second straight start Thursday, Bruins goaltender Anton Khudobin sounded like a downtrodden fortune cookie.
“We shot a lot of pucks and some things didn’t go our way,” the Bruins’ backup said. “When the black cat crossed the road, it’s just a black cat crossed the road.”
Unfortunately for Khudobin and the Bruins, they weren’t playing against cats of any color – just the Washington Capitals, who continued their run of dominance against the Bruins with a 5-3 win at TD Garden. The Capitals have won 11 straight against the Bruins, including six straight in Boston.
Despite Khudobin’s attempted Confucius impression, there was more than misfortune working against the Bruins against the Capitals and in Khudobin’s past two starts.
Khudobin has found out what life was like being Tuukka Rask earlier this season. In his last start prior to facing the Capitals, Khudobin let in four goals in Nashville and was pulled Dec. 4. That game was a clinic in how not to defend the front of the net for the Bruins.
The Capitals similarly exploited the Bruins, making Khudobin look like a goaltender that Joe Six Pack probably wants to trade for a “bag of pucks” even though none of the goals scored against the Bruins were the netminder’s fault. Rask, sitting on the bench, deep down in the recesses of his mind was probably thinking “now you know what it’s like.”
Prior to this month the Bruins saved their worst defensive performances for Rask’s starts. Now it’s Khudobin’s turn. It seemed the only way the Bruins were going to end their horrible run against Washington was for Khudobin to do something superhuman, and he started out that way. After getting the benefit of a coach’s challenge for offsides, taking a Capitals goal (scored from the top of the blue paint) off the scoreboard, Khudobin kept the game scoreless in the first period with an astonishing glove save on a Jakub Vrana one-timer from the slot. Khudobin then kept Nicklas Backstrom’s tip from the top of the blue paint out of the goal.
Eventually the golden scoring chances were too numerous for Khudobin to save the Bruins. After Vrana steered toward the Boston zone at the Washington blue line, the Capitals forward blew by rookie defenseman Matt Grzelcyk and scored on his partial breakaway.
“I just got caught flat-footed and didn’t see him coming with speed,” Grzelcyk. “By the time I recognized it, it was too late, so it’s definitely something I can learn from.”
School has been in session all season for the youthful Bruins, who average 26 years in age. More often than not, they’ve passed their exams with a little help from Khudobin. Lately Rask has benefitted from more proficient play in front of him and made the remarkable save when necessary.
The lessons against the Capitals, however, kept stacking up. Backstrom cashed in on a seam pass to the front to give Washington a 2-1 lead after Patrice Bergeron had tied the score. Then Alex Chiasson took advantage of the Bruins’ net-front play that looked more like square dancing than defense and put the Capitals up 3-1. When Chiasson broke free for a shorthanded breakaway and beat Khudobin with a backhand shot for a 4-1 lead, school was out for the Bruins and Khudobin was left wondering where the Bruins’ game plan went from the time they left the locker room until the Capitals opened their first three-goal lead of the night.
“They really play a high offensive game. And you know you want to play a little bit differently against this team, but you can’t do that because you don’t want to cheat. And some of the plays they made, it’s really good play,” Khudobin said.
The Bruins had their chances to hang closer to the Capitals. Boston landed 37 shots on Braden Holtby and attempted 74 shots, including four that hit the post. But it took them a period to shake out of the doldrums after arriving home late after their game in Detroit on Wednesday and then they didn’t respect the Capitals’ high-end speed, skill and chemistry.
The Bruins’ rookie-laden roster has been racking up experience all season and learning from their mistakes. We’ll know in two weeks when the Bruins visit Washington if Boston has any clue how to stop the Capitals. As for Khudobin, he probably won’t get another start until next week. That’s plenty of time for him to commiserate with Rask and learn how to survive a stretch when your play is a notch or two below your best and your teammates’ play pulls you down like an anchor.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.