The Boston Bruins had a scenic win over the Philadelphia Flyers last weekend in Lake Tahoe. That’s been their lone bright spot over the last five games.
Friday’s 6-2 setback against the New York Rangers marked Boston’s fourth loss in that aforementioned span. Over an 80 minute span going back to the second period of Thursday’s loss, Bruce Cassidy’s squad scored just once — on Patrice Bergeron’s tip-in early in the second period — while relinquishing a whopping 11 goals against.
The Bruins attempted to muck things up at times with Brad Marchand and Trent Fredric engaging in notable post-whistle altercations against Ryan Lindgren and Jack Johnson, respectively, in the middle stanza. Aside from that rare instance of competitiveness, they hardly showcased any fight or desperation in front of a socially distant Madison Square Garden crowd.
Julien Gauthier’s second goal of the season put the Bruins in catchup mode at 13:16 of the opening stanza. A miscommunication between Brandon Carlo and Anders Bjork left Ryan Strome all alone at the left faceoff dot as he promptly fired his shot past Tuukka Rask for his sixth goal of the season 2:32 into the second.
Bergeron cut the lead to 2-1 exactly 1:30 after Strome’s tally. The Bruins put forth a handful of quality scoring chances for a 10-15 minute stretch only to come up short against Rangers goaltender Alexander Georgiev.
Then it turned ugly, beginning with Colin Backwell’s power-play tally at 18:52. Chris Kreider outmuscled Urho Vaakaninen a mere 12 seconds later and banked home a shot off Charlie McAvoy’s skate for his ninth of the season.
On a night where Marchand tallied his 300th career NHL goal, a hapless Bruins squad became mere spectators in the final stanza. They allowed another pair of embarrassing goals early in the third on Pavel Buchenvich’s fifth of the season and Johnny Brodzinki’s first tally in a Ranger uniform less than two minutes apart.
“It can’t go any further than this,” a blunt Carlo said. “This is unacceptable. We have to look in the mirror and move on from this.”
Here’s what we learned from another humiliating effort in New York.
Cassidy calls out depth guys
Aside from Studnicka’s assertiveness in the attacking end, Boston’s forward and defensive depth rarely put forth a quality effort. More often than not, the Rangers outmuscled the Bruins in one-on-one battles along the boards. It helped them establish and sustain a fluid attacking zone rhythm.
The Bruins didn’t have David Krejci, Kevan Miller, Jeremy Lauzon, and Matt Grzelcyk in each of the last two games. The latter could enter the lineup in Sunday’s rematch.
The injuries provided opportunities for some of the younger players to showcase their potential in a significant role. They hardly took advantage.
The Bruins counted on Jake DeBrusk, Sean Kuraly, and Chris Wagner to provide timely secondary scoring. They were merely passengers in this two-game horror-trip through the Greater New York area.
All this prompted Cassidy to issue a challenge for the aforementioned trio, along with Connor Clifton and John Moore on the back end.
“The guys in the middle that have an opportunity and some days go home and say ‘gee I wish I got more minutes,’ or ‘I had a better chance.’ That middle group: the Bjorks, the DeBrusks, the Johnny Moore’s and Clifton’s that have been out of the lineup…the Wagners and Kuralys…they need to put a little onus on themselves to impact the game,” Cassidy said. “Whether it’s offensively, or whether it’s physically…when they talk to me about what they need to do to stay in the lineup, tonight is a good example of that.”
The Bruins may have a reinforcement in Grzelcyk on Sunday. Yet, they’ve thrived on a next-man-up mentality in the past. They’ll need to echo that mindset again in another attempt to right the ship.
“It’s about the next man up, and we have to do our jobs,” Bergeron said. “We have to compete and be harder on pucks.”
Young defense looked the part
Carlo, McAvoy, and Jakub Zboril entered the New York trip as the three lone defenders on Boston’s opening night roster. The seventh, eighth, and ninth defensemen from the Game 1 depth chart found themselves with significant roles with Lauzon, Grzelcyk, and Miller all out of the lineup.
The Bruins faced similar situations before, including in Lake Tahoe where they played most of the game with five D after Lauzon’s exit following his only shift early in the opening stanza.
The last two days showcased a different story. The communication breakdowns became noticeable with each goal against. Instead of making a simple outlet feed, the backend tried to make up ground either through untimely pinches or lengthy cross-ice passes resulting in costly turnovers.
So is this a case of Vaakaninen, Moore, Clifton and Zboril playing over their heads in an attempt to atone for injuries? Some of it, yes. But Cassidy didn’t single them out here. He also put the onus on the coaching staff, including himself, to put them in the best position to succeed.
“They have to play better and recognize what they can get away with, with the puck or not. It’s just too many turnovers and too much reckless play, Cassidy said. “We have to do a better job coaching them up no doubt, so that’s on us. But by the same token, once they get on the ice, they have to recognize how they help us win games.”
One way to recognize the issue: the scoreboard. The Islanders and Rangers outscored the Bruins 13-4 on back-to-back nights. They’ve encountered similar stretches before under Cassidy, but none as painful as this.
Response nowhere to be found
“The compete level has been spasmodic at best over the past couple of nights,” NESN’s Jack Edwards said in the final moments.
Quite frankly, he’s right.
The Bruins had chances to engage and goad the Rangers on Friday. At times, they found themselves on the wrong end of things in Marchand’s exchange with Lindgren and Frederic’s attempt to drop the gloves with Johnson during the middle stanza. Instead, the latest member of the 300-goal club and the former Wisconsin Badger found themselves in the penalty box, thus negating a potential Boston power-play attempt.
They didn’t show enough of that competitive spirit, though. As mistakes mounted, the Bruins became hesitant in exchanging pleasantries with their East Division rival.
It didn’t necessarily factor into the lopsided result. They couldn’t do much to salvage another uninspiring effort. But the Bruins could’ve sent a little message to the Rangers with some spirited contact in the final moments before the two meet again on Sunday.
The snowball effect has the Bruins in an early-season hole. The last thing they need is an avalanche to dig out of.
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