How Bruins’ second collapse of week reflects more on Sweeney than Cassidy

Matt Kalman
January 19, 2020 - 5:07 pm

One week from Sunday many Bruins will be enjoying the combined NHL All-Star break/CBA-mandated off week on a beach somewhere.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy might want to consider slipping some crabs in his players’ luggage to make them uncomfortable. Because too many times this season, and especially this past week, Boston has tried to cruise to victory after getting an early lead.

This time the Bruins wasted 3-0 lead and lost in regulation at Pittsburgh, 4-3 on Sunday. The latest collapse came just six days after a 5-2 lead turned into a 6-5 shootout loss at Philadelphia on Monday.

Combined with the 5-4 shootout loss to Florida on Nov. 12, the Bruins have lost three games this season during which they’ve held a three-goal lead. Their record in such games since the 2010-11 season now stands at 200-2-6. That’s right, almost half the losses in those type of games have come in the past three months.

The Bruins are also an unsightly 16-1-6 in games they lead after the second period and they’re just 10-4-12 in one-goal games. There are flaws with this team that need to be addressed. It’s no longer acceptable to say ‘we went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last year’ or ‘we have the second most points in the Eastern Conference’ in response to every criticism.

Since Dec. 1 the Bruins are 15th in the NHL with a points percentage of .563. Ahead of the Bruins are some elite teams (Pittsburgh is actually first), some surprise teams (no one saw Vancouver and Chicago competing as well as they have at this point in the season) and, yes, a couple teams – Toronto and Vegas – that have changed coaches because of performance reasons.

So where does that leave Cassidy? Well the Bruins still have trouble putting together three strong periods, their blowing of two-goal leads is almost as distressing as their loss of three-goal leads, and their play might be in its second month of staleness. But Cassidy’s doing everything he can, short of benching a core player, to shake them up. He’s juggled his offensive lines. He’s scratched a couple of his favorites – Danton Heinen and Matt Grzelcyk – for one game each, and practically benched another of his Bruins sons Sean Kuraly for most of the game in the player’s hometown of Columbus.

Cassidy and his staff changed up the team’s routine Thursday and sent a message to the players about playing with passion and togetherness. It paid off with a 4-1 win over the Penguins and carried over for one period in Pittsburgh. Then the Bruins returned to being the punching bag instead of the boxer.

John Moore got stripped by Sidney Crosby, who set up Dominik Simon’s goal that got the Penguins on the board. Jack Johnson’s game-tying shorthanded goal was a great shot, but the Bruins got caught with three players in the offensive zone below the goal line, including Jake DeBrusk, who was interfered with trying to start his backcheck. That’s what happens when you’re not imposing your will on the game.

Charlie McAvoy got caught waiting for a bus in the rain, and Evgeni Malkin played the role of the pickup truck splashing a puddle at him, stripping the puck away and setting up Bryan Rust’s game-winning goal. Brandon Carlo was the only Bruins defenseman that didn’t get his picture taken standing near the Boston goal in despair after a Pittsburgh goal. There were similar issues in Philadelphia, at Columbus and in several games the Bruins have lost since December.

“Guys that have offensive ability have to start playing to their strength a little bit more on our back and or we’ve got to seriously consider, you know, what type of D corps do we want,” Cassidy told the media after the game. “We’re supposed to be mobile, supposed to be able to move pucks, break pucks out, add to our offense. And right now that’s a challenge for us.”

The forward corps failed to establish a forecheck after the first period, and only the Perfection Line was able to generate much in the way of offense. Like in last year’s playoffs the bump the Bruins got from inserting Karson Kuhlman into the lineup Thursday wore off fast and they again became a one-line team. The fourth line got just three shifts in the third period (and still got scored on) and the second line with Charlie Coyle again filling in for the injury David Krejci had its share of puck possession and attack-zone residence, but little in the way of threats to Penguins goalie Matt Murray. Booed after he gave up three goals in the first period, Murray only a couple times had to muss his hair to keep the Bruins’ goal total at three.

All the Bruins’ faults in one Sunday afternoon NBC broadcast. Not enough top-six firepower. Not enough size and bite on the back end. It’s not Cassidy’s fault Anders Bjork, who’s had his positive moments the past couple weeks, isn’t heavy or experienced enough yet to bring consistency to the second-line right-wing revolving door. It’s not Cassidy’s fault that Kevan Miller and Connor Clifton go out of the lineup and the Bruins’ defense depth takes a nosedive, as Matt Grzelcyk suffers through the worst slump of his NHL career and Moore – either because he’s not capable or is still worried about his surgically repaired shoulder – refuses to play up to his size.

We’re five weeks from the NHL trade deadline. It’s dealing season. Sweeney has to recognize that he needs more than just a top-six forward, he needs a third-pair D. If the deal for Los Angeles’ Tyler Toffoli is in his pocket, as Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet said this week, then Sweeney has to make it soon, see how the team fares and then adjust at the deadline. Even better, if he can bring in the D now, it would give the blueliner more time to adjust to the system and then the forward opening could be addressed closer to Feb. 24.

One thing Sweeney can’t do is blame the coach. The roster that made the Cup Final, minus Marcus Johansson, has performed exactly as expected but it can’t be expected to make a return to June without the necessary additions.

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