Bruins fail first Lightning test, with plenty of time to study up

Matt Kalman
October 18, 2019 - 1:05 am

“It’s like right now our team IQ is a little bit low and we’ve got to find a way to be a little smarter.” -- Bruins defenseman Torey Krug after a 4-3 shootout loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday

For two weeks the Bruins were the advanced kids, or in their case the Stanley Cup finalist, that were taking remedial courses.

Their schedule tried to throw a couple pop quizzes in their way in the person of Vegas and Colorado, but the Bruins aced one of those two tests and made it through to Thursday’s showdown with the Lightning with a 5-1-0 record despite the absence of a 60-minute effort to their credit.

Then the Atlantic Division favorites came to Causeway Street and the Bruins found out just how much they have to learn if they’re going to again play into June. The final stats showed Boston outshooting Tampa Bay 37-36, and beating them 61-58 in attempts. If ever there was an argument for not mistaking activity for accomplishment, this was the game.

Not that the Bruins should’ve been blown out. They had their moments, and even slumping Jake DeBrusk, Karson Kuhlman and Brett Ritchie had some encouraging in-tight scoring chances. Heck, any shootout is a coin flip, so the Bruins did well to make it that far and earn a point in the standings. And they hit the post at least three times. Of course, two of those came off the stick of Brad Marchand, which was another symptom of what’s ailing the Bruins.

The Bruins scored three goals, all on the power play, all by David Pastrnak (2) and Patrice Bergeron in the second straight game that the Bruins didn’t get a point from someone other than Pastrnak, Bergeron, Marchand or Torey Krug. This offense is so unbalanced they’re going to put it in Pisa. You’re not going to beat the Lightning with a one-line team and a killer power play (and let’s face it, it’s comical how easily the Bruins’ first power play is making scoring look right now).

“Well, we win the game, right, tonight, if we get secondary scoring from anybody. I think we’re stating the obvious saying that. Having said that, our record is pretty good without it, but I don’t think it’s sustainable,” coach Bruce Cassidy finally admitted after the loss, days since already stressed that this wasn’t a sustainable offensive model.

But just as troubling as the much-criticized top-heavy scoring against Tampa Bay were the mental lapses that cost the Bruins two goals and left goalie Tuukka Rask out to dry. The Bruins nearly took a 1-0 lead to the first intermission before surrendering a goal to Brayden Point with 1.6 seconds left. It was a simple breakout with Victor Hedman moving the puck up to Yanni Gourde, and the Lightning forward hitting Point in stride before the center split Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy and attacked the net alone. The Lightning had just run the same play 30 seconds earlier with Nikita Kucherov, but the pass was too long. The Bruins should’ve been more prepared to protect the middle of the ice, a cardinal sin when not done properly under Cassidy’s system or for any coach worth his salt.

Krug described Point’s goal as a play that changed the complexion of the game. Nonetheless the Bruins’ power play gave them another lead in the second period, only to see DeBrusk and a comedy of errors give it right back.

First DeBrusk tries a back pass from just inside the blue line to Ritchie, who had stopped skating so couldn’t get near it when it went a little awry. McAvoy tried to block Alex Killorn’s shot by doing the Macarena in front of the Boston net, and then Rask couldn’t corral the rebound before Mathieu Joseph could poke it into the net.

The Lightning, coming off their record-tying, 62-win regular season and unceremonious first-round playoff loss last season, have been humbled in the early going of the 2019-20 campaign. They even lost to Ottawa. Now they’ve driven through their adversity and earned a pair of divisional victories over Montreal and Boston for their first consecutive wins of the season. They're now 4-2-1.

The Bruins, on the other hand, hadn’t been smacked in the face yet. For their sake, one hopes they don’t take any moral victories or satisfaction in getting to the shootout, in getting the point in the standings. They didn’t play well enough to go to 6-1-0 and their 5-1-1 record isn’t reflective of how they’ve played as a team, how they’ve played shift to shift through seven games.

Although there won’t be another Tampa Bay test until December, how’s a home-and-home with Toronto and then a Cup Final rematch with St. Louis sound for a chance for the Bruins to really perform in a way that’ll make Cassidy proud?

The Bruins are going to need more than just an increase in production throughout the lineup, they’re also going to need their smarts to take care of the puck and make better decisions when facing some of the league’s best attacks.