Anderson: Importance of two 'redundant' Bruins defensemen on full display in loss

Ty Anderson
October 22, 2017 - 4:49 pm

Joshua Dahl/USA Today Sports

The Bruins were an erratic mess in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Sabres on Saturday night, and were deserved losers after blowing a three-goal lead to a Buffalo team that played the night before and entered action with just four of a possible 16 points this season.

“We needed a big play, needed to get out of a mess and we just couldn’t do it,” Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, on the ice for all three Buffalo goals, including the game-tying goal in the third period and game-winning goal in overtime, said. “We hold ourselves accountable and it hurts. Especially with the long layoff before the next game.”

But what the Bruins really needed was one of Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller.

When you looked at how the Sabres took over the second half of this game, it was with heavy traffic, screens, and deflections. Their access to the prime scoring areas of the ice was entirely too easy, and simply overwhelmed the adventurous Anton Khudobin (37 saves on 42 shots) by the night’s end, with the writing on the wall long before that.

After Jason Pominville opened Buffalo’s scoring off a forced turnover in the second period, Jack Eichel brought the Sabres back to within two before the end of 40 minutes with a rebound goal that left Brandon Carlo searching for the puck. The Bruins most definitely could have used one of McQuaid or Miller in the third period, too, with a battle lost in the corner that left Carlo scrambling and on an island when Benoit Pouliot brought the Sabres back within one in the third period, and with both Rob O’Gara and Krug straight-up swimming in their own end on the game-tying goal.

When the Bruins needed somebody to simply settle things down, McQuaid was on the ninth level in a walking boot (a broken fibula, suffered on a blocked shot parade of a shift in the third period, will keep him out for the next eight weeks) while Miller sat with a ‘day-to-day’ designation because of an upper-body injury suffered in Thursday's win over the Canucks.

“That’s where the appreciation comes in for the Miller’s and the McQuaid’s of the world,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy admitted. “They’re not always flashy, but in those instances, they’re money. They get it done. And that’s why they are paid to get it done.”

Their losses were especially brutal for Krug, in what was inarguably his worst game of the season, and was simply and consistently caved in on a pairing with Carlo.

“We lose McQuaid, [so] there is going to be a reshuffling. Torey is used to Adam. Torey didn’t see a lot of training camp, so he didn’t see a lot of different partners,” Cassidy acknowledged. “[Miller] can’t [play], so we bring up [Rob O’Gara], so there’s going to be some guys that are going to have to get to know each other on the fly. So, I think they’ve had better games. Don’t know if it had anything to do with their chemistry or not.”

“Panic sets in and all of a sudden, you’re doing uncharacteristic things and everyone wants to be the guys that steps-up and makes the play to get us out of that jam and we just couldn’t do it,” Krug said of the team’s mindset in the midst of their collapse.

Bemoaning the loss of a McQuaid or Miller is something that many in Boston won’t publicly do, as they’re players frequently used as punchlines for the smarmy crowd because of their redundancies as players and minimal impact in an increasingly offensive-minded NHL. But just because these players are similar in style as physically-imposing right-shot defenders just over 30 years old and on similar contracts (Miller makes $2.5 million per year while McQuaid makes $2.75 million), and just because they’re not going to stand out with the slickest of skating cuts and booming shots, doesn’t mean that they’re not an important piece of the B’s puzzle.

Unable to acquire or sign a left-shot defenseman this season, Miller has played an invaluable, Seidenberg-esque role as the go-to defender that can play both the left and right side, and log some hard minutes on either side. Without his presence, Krug is thrust into all facets of a consistent top-four role, while a call to Providence is made, typically for Rob O’Gara (Paul Postma, a right-shot that made his season debut last night, apparently did not impress the coaching staff enough to earn left-side trust).

McQuaid, meanwhile, while his normal pairing with Krug has been off to a tough start, is a player whose shot-blocking prowess has flown under the radar and was sorely missed as Khudobin was under siege (42 of the Sabres’ 72 shot attempts landed on net).

“Yes, we miss them,” Cassidy, whose team has lost over 20 man-games to injury through the first seven games this year, said of their most recent loss of both McQuaid and Miller. “But, last week we missed other players. So that guys that are on there, it’s up to them to get it done, right. Didn’t happen [Saturday], and hopefully we learned from it and can be hungrier the next time. There’s not much else to analyze that. That was it. Someone had to play in that situation. We pick guys who we figure would get the job done, and it didn’t work out for us. Next time, we’ll keep working at it.”

And when we do speak of their redundancies, which certainly exist, it’s with the idea that one replaces the other when injured.

It’s not with the idea that the Black and Gold can survive an injury to both at the same time, which as Saturday proved, they cannot.