What loss to Avs tells us about Bruins matching up against NHL elite

Matt Kalman
December 07, 2019 - 11:12 pm

Two things should get the Bruins back on the winning track next week after losing two in a row to close out their homestand.

Patrice Bergeron could be back in the lineup. And even if the star center doesn’t return from his lower-body injury after sitting out his seventh straight game Saturday – a 4-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche at TD Garden – the Bruins get to go back to the JV portion of their schedule. Boston will be in Ottawa on Monday to take on the Senators, who are feisty but still a second-division team NHL overall standings.

The Avalanche are the total opposite of the Senators, especially now that they’re nearly at full strength with their top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen healthy and reunited. That trio didn’t get on the score sheet as a unit (other than a MacKinnon assist during a line change) until Landeskog’s empty-net goal sealed the win. But much like when Bergeron returns to solidify Boston’s lineup, that Colorado top line allows everyone else to play their role, and even without Nazem Kadri the Avalanche got secondary offense from Valeri Nichushkin and Andre Burakovsky (not to mention Ian Cole, who scored his 23rd goal in his 500th NHL game).

This loss wasn’t about complacency or a “lack of urgency,” as Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy likes to call it. Sure the Bruins trailed in the third period again, the sixth straight game they were behind or tied in the third period. They’d gone 4-0-1 in the previous five, and no team’s going to give a full 60-minute effort, especially when it doesn’t need to in order to get two points against a team like the New York Rangers or Montreal Canadiens. You have to throw out this football-fan mentality that what teams do over 16 games can be spread over 82 games.

This was more about just being outclassed by a team executed its game plan better, and thus looked more talented for one night, even without Kadri and Erik Johnson to start, and then without Cale Makar in the thrid period. Cassidy had to again juggle his lines, and somehow had to give Brett Ritchie, in his return from a six-game absence, a promotion to playing with Brad Marchand and Charlie Coyle on what might’ve been a second line, although the NHL’s leading goal scorer David Pastrnak found himself skating with Par Lindholm and Anders Bjork for the second half of the game.

Against an elite Colorado squad too many Bruins played below their usual standard -- we're looking at you Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Danton Heinen and even Coyle. With the Joakim Nordstrom-Sean Kuraly-Chris Wagner line doing a legitimately solid job keeping MacKinnon’s line to the perimeter and in uncomfortable shooting positions, the rest of Boston’s lineup should’ve been freed up to create more, and instead they got outplayed.

The same way the Bruins typically know how to win when they have a lead (something they hope will happen again soon), they also know how to move on from a loss, even one that smacked them back to reality after their 13-game point streak (9-0-4).

Marchand, for one, was looking toward the future.

“You know we pushed back there at the end, but I think it’s a good game to realize that we’re not going to continue to win by getting down,” said the winger after he went a season-high fifth straight game without a goal. “So you know it’s good to lose, unfortunately, it is good to lose every now and again. And good to be able to right the ship again.”

Bergeron might be back Monday, but he shouldn’t rush with Ottawa on tap. The Bruins then have a difficult back-to-back against Washington and Tampa Bay, Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Boston will need Bergeron more those nights. They’ll also need to do the things in terms of puck management and structure that they didn’t do against the Avalanche when they take on those similarly elite teams.

There are only about two dozen nights a season when nothing less than playing up to 100 percent efficiency will be good enough when you consider that the parity of the NHL means the Bruins are in exclusive company among a handful of teams that are legit Stanley Cup contenders. Most games are against a hodgepodge of misfits and wannabes, and the Bruins have taken advantage of them to build their comfortable cushion in the standings.

Saturday was one of those nights they didn’t answer the bell in terms of playing to full capacity. But they still have just four regulation losses, two to Colorado, and they’ve beaten a couple fellow contenders along the way – namely St. Louis and Carolina.

In the grand scheme of things these battles of elites are mileposts along the marathon of the season. Sometimes you’re not at full strength, sometimes you don’t play your best, sometimes you're both. You learn what needs to be rectified in terms of strategy, you find one what might be missing in terms of talent among your personnel. And then you move on, hoping you make the right corrections and you get back to full health.

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