Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

Avalanche 6, Bruins 3: They miss Patrice Bergeron in the worst way

Ty Anderson
October 12, 2017 - 12:47 am

The Bruins do not have a set date in mind when it comes to Patrice Bergeron’s return from the lower-body injury that’s kept him out of the first three games of the season. But after another frustrating loss to the Avalanche, this time by a 6-3 final at Denver’s Pepsi Center, it’s clear that ‘as soon as possible’ would be the preferred date.

That’s because these two games have served as a reminder for just how scary life without the 32-year-old Bergeron can be for this team, even in his 14th NHL season.

Without Bergeron, fourth-line center Riley Nash has moved up to Boston’s top line as the center for Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, two players that combined for 75 goals last season. That’s because Nash is a right-handed shot, and he’s considered the next-best option after the injured David Backes (and because the Bruins want David Krejci to center the kid-wing duo of Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork). Nash has also taken Bergeron’s spot as the ‘bumper’ on the B’s first power-play unit.

And while Nash does a lot of things extremely well for the B’s, centering the first line and logging top-unit power-play minutes are two things unlikely to be featured on that list.

Although Marchand would score a goal in the losing effort, it was a goal that was by all means meant nothing as the Bruins finished the period with just four shots on goal, and had just nine shots on Semyon Varlamov through 40 minutes of play.

That, as a three-goal outburst from the Avs in the middle period and early exit for Tuukka Rask proved, was not nearly enough for this team to keep pace with Colorado.

And while the Bruins ultimately gave this game some fight, with two third-period goals, one from Tim Schaller and the other from Torey Krug, the damage was already done.

It was a lot of the same from Monday in this game, too, which was headlined by sloppy breakouts and power-play struggles that saw the B’s fail to tally a power-play goal until their fourth and final opportunity of the night, and with a 2-for-11 mark to begin the year.

The Bruins’ best (and really only) chances from their top unit have come with Pastrnak’s blast from the point (it’s a borderline Ovechkin-like shot when the one-time feeds hit the sweet spot of No. 88’s blade), while right-side movements to Ryan Spooner have left the club without many viable options. That’s where Bergeron’s one-time option or quick tap-passes as the bumper has been missed, with Bergeron having a direct involvement in 42 of the 101 power-play goals the Bruins scored from 2015 to 2017, and as teams have essentially loaded up against Pastrnak knowing that Nash is not the facilitator between the circles that Bergeron has been for the club.

These struggles were painful over the course of this home-and-home against the Avalanche, too, with the Bruins scoring on just one of their eight total power-play opportunities. And the Avalanche allowed five power-play on their 10 trips to the kill before these two games with the Bruins, mind you, so it’s not as if this team ran into a penalty-killing juggernaut that’s left the rest of the league just as frustrated.

The man advantage was not the only spot where the Bruins found themselves wishing No. 37 was on the ice, either, as the B’s found themselves with an offensive-zone faceoff with under two minutes left in the game and down by just one goal.

Bruce Cassidy then pulled relief goaltender Anton Khudobin for the extra attacker (Schaller in this case), and all the team really needed to do was win the faceoff to have a 6-on-5 advantage and with momentum working towards their advantage. It was Krejci against Nathan MacKinnon in this scenario, and Krejci lost the draw cleanly. What followed was a simple zone clear and Sven Andrighetto empty-net dagger.

That’s where the Bruins could’ve used the man that won the second-most offensive-zone faceoffs a year ago, and won them at a 60.2 percent clip. (The Bruins, by the way, finished the night with a faceoff percentage of 51 percent as a team, but with just 10 wins in 20 offensive-zone battles at the dot.)

Perhaps it’s no secret that this team isn’t all that great without their best and most important player, but did you ever think it could be this bad? Even with the club down Bergeron (and Backes and Noel Acciari to obviously lesser degrees), the Bruins have players that seem capable of doing the job when this team needs an obvious lift, from Krejci to Pastrnak to Marchand to Torey Krug and beyond, especially against this opponent. And that lift should come before spotting the opposition a three-goal edge.

Or maybe they don’t and we’ve all found a way to (somehow) undervalue Bergeron.

The Bruins return to action Saturday night against the Coyotes.

Whether or not Bergeron is with them is as good as anybody’s guess, but whether or not they need him is a question that a 1-2-0 record should answer just fine. 

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