Bruins Still Allowing Braden Holtby to Get Too Comfortable with Lack of Net-Front Presence

Bruins Still Allowing Braden Holtby to Get Too Comfortable with Lack of Net-Front PresenceBraden Holtby was the story of Game 4 in Washington on Thursday, but the Bruins were the authors of the tale.

They created the circumstances that let the Capitals young goalie steal a game and even the series at two games apiece with Washington’s 2-1 victory.

“I think you’ve got to give him credit, he played well tonight,” Bruins coach Claude Julien told NESN’s Naoko Funayama in Washington. “But at the same time, you also have to look in the mirror and tell yourself what didn’t we do? It’s the same old story. I think we did a lot of good things tonight, had a lot of chances and a lot of shots, but until we are ready to pay a real price in front of the net and win those battles and stay there.”

Until the Bruins make that commitment, Holtby and the Capitals will stick around in this series and might just end Boston’s Cup defense much earlier than the Bruins planned.

The Bruins, who finished tied for second in the NHL in scoring in the regular season, have now scored seven goals in four games this series. Four of them came in their Game 3 win on Monday, while they’ve managed just a single goal in each of the other three games.

None of those goals has come from their top two lines. Rich Peverley scored the lone goal Thursday, but it came during a line change and he was on the ice with Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille.

Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, the club’s top five goal-scorers in the regular season combining for 128 goals, have no goals in this series. Bergeron has a single assist for the lone point among that quintet, and that came while playing 4 on 4 with third-line center Chris Kelly.

Statistically, the Bruins dominated Thursday night. They outshot Washington 45-21. They roared out to a 10-1 advantage midway through the first period, but found themselves behind as Washington made its lone shot count with a Marcus Johansson tally 1:22 into play.

Boston finished the opening frame up 14-3 in shots and managed to pull even when Peverley scored at 13:12, but the Bruins never went ahead, not even with another 10-2 advantage in shots to start the second period.

Holtby was a big part of that, as the 22-year-old in his first playoff series continues to surprise. But the Bruins also made things all too easy on him by settling for too many perimeter shots and failing to create the kind of traffic in front that could rattle the youngster and produce some goals with screens, deflections and second- and third-chance opportunities.

“A lot of times our guys are shooting pucks and our guys are skating by the net,” Julien said. “If you stop in front then there’s some loose pucks there. I think we’ve really got to get better in that area.”

Washington wasn’t doing a lot to make Tim Thomas work on the other end. The Capitals put together a surge in the second half of the second period with the help of a pair of power plays. They finished with 15 shots that period, including one from Alexander Semin in the left circle with 1:17 left for the go-ahead tally on the man advantage.

Other than that, Washington sat back and went back into its rope-a-dope tactics. The Bruins outshot them again in the third by a 13-3 margin, but never got the equalizer. Holtby was a big part of the reason why, but he had some help too.

The teams each had 14 blocked shots through 40 minutes, but in the third period with Washington clinging to a one-goal lead, the Capitals added 12 more to just two for Boston. That kind of commitment and sacrifice was lacking on the offensive end for Bruins.

“They blocked a lot of shots,” Peverley told reporters in Washington. “I think we still can get better at our net presence, but you know, they buried their chances. We had a few, there was definitely a few that kind of rolled off to the side and we weren’t there to bang them in. We’re going to have to do that if we’re gonna win the series.”

That was obvious even from the other end of the ice.

“We had a lot of shots, but as far as high-quality scoring chances I wouldn’t say we got a lot of those,” Thomas told reporters in Washington. “If you’re going to get those shots and get pucks to the need you need people in front of the net screening, tipping and getting rebounds. That’s seems to be our problem this series, getting that down.”

The Bruins couldn’t do that Thursday night in Washington. If they don’t find a way to correct that over the next couple of games this weekend, they will have a very long offseason to think about the cost of the price they didn’t pay in front.

Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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