What the Bruins were screwing up while everyone was thinking about the Patriots

Matt Kalman
January 04, 2020 - 5:18 pm

Most of New England was expected to be distracted by the anticipation for the Patriots’ wild card game against Tennessee.

But that wasn’t supposed to include the Bruins.

Oh well, at least their latest dud of a performance will fly in the radar regardless of how things go down in Foxboro.

At least this time they didn’t blow a third-period lead and lose in a shootout or overtime the way they have most of their recent defeats. This time they lost the lead in the second period and lost in regulation, 4-1 to the Edmonton Oilers at TD Garden.

Now they’re 0-1-2 in their past three games – with losses to New Jersey, Columbus and Edmonton (not exactly Murderer’s Row) – and just 4-5-6 (one game belowNHL .500, but seven below .500 in the real world) in their past 15 games. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning are getting within smelling distance in the Atlantic Division.

The Bruins’ leadership isn’t panicking.

“Well this time I don’t think you can get frustrated,” center Patrice Bergeron said. “I think that’s the last thing you want to do. You know it’s a tough league, there’s going to be times where things like that happen. It’s about rolling up your sleeves and getting to the net. I think there’s a lot of fancy plays that we can get rid of in our game and go back to maybe funneling the puck and knowing that we’re going there, and there’s a lot of loose pucks that were there even tonight that we can find and maybe find some urgency to get them and bear down on those goals.

“It’s not always going to be pretty and that’s what we need to rely on right now.”

There are two glaring issues right now that stick out more than Jake DeBrusk’s giveaway that led to Gaetan Haas’ game-tying goal in the second period.

One, the forward depth has been pushed to its limit and needs to be supplemented. The Bruins are fully healthy up front, yet they’ve scored one even-strength goal among their four goals in the past three games. And that goal was a net-mouth scramble by Joakim Nordstrom.

If general manager Don Sweeney isn’t ready to make a trade, or the players that could make a difference here aren’t available yet, then the Bruins have to dip into the Providence pool. Zach Senyshyn’s healthy, Paul Carey is scoring at a strong clip and Jack Studnicka couldn’t do worse as a third- or fourth-line center right now than Par Lindholm. It’d be easy enough to clear a roster spot by waiving Lindholm or Brett Ritchie, and the Bruins have just enough breathing room under the salary-cap ceiling to make at least a minor change to try to spark the offense.

The second problem is the lack of devotion from the veteran players that are expected to produce at the offensive end. No one’s paying the price. Sean Kuraly was Boston’s best forward Saturday. That just can’t happen. Bergeron’s right about funneling the puck and following it to the net. But there has to be more determination along the boards and in the slot. It’s time to bang some bodies on the forecheck. And it’s time for the defenseman to hit the net – we’re looking at you Charlie McAvoy – with their shots. It's time to start taking better care of the puck instead of giving up odd-man rushes and expecting Jaroslav Halak and Tuukka Rask to stop everything.

Coach Bruce Cassidy juggled his forward lines again in the third period against Edmonton, even breaking up Bergeron’s line and replacing David Pastrnak with Charlie Coyle. Pastrnak skated with David Krejci and Danton Heinen. There’s just so much a coach can do with this group of players that we know are talented and should be able to keep the Bruins afloat until Sweeney supplements the lineup, but seem to have just hit a wall.

The Bruins right now remind one of the Lightning from last April, the team that cruised through the last three months of the regular season and then got punked in four straight by Columbus. Maybe things came too easy to the Bruins as they built their divisional lead and looked like they found a Stanley Cup runner-up hangover cure.

Luckily for the Bruins, they have more time to get back on track than the Lightning did eight months ago. For the long haul, they’re going to need Sweeney to swing a deal or two. In the short term, though, we saw in May and June, and again in November and early December, that these guys can play like one of the elite teams in the NHL. Whether they get a spark from a newcomer or not, the Bruins have to rededicate themselves to playing a harder-nosed brand of hockey and a smarter brand of hockey to grind out some victories and not let that divisional lead disappear.

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