After another lackluster first period and start in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden Sunday, it appears the Boston Bruins may need some 5-hour ENERGY or more specifically, energy to start a game as they seem to finally be battling the inevitable hangover that comes from playing deep into the playoffs the prior season.
“I don’t know if it’s an energy issue right now because we talked about some time we thought the residual effect of last year,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said following his team’s third-straight loss, their longest losing streak of the season thus far. Maybe it’s kicking in earlier than we thought; I don’t know. We’ll talk to the players about that and see where it leads.”
Give the Bruins credit, they backed up their words from the preseason and put the devastating Game 7 loss on home ice to the St. Louis Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final in the rearview mirror for the first month of this 2019-20 NHL season.
The Bruins were 9-1-2 in October and went 9-0-2 from their home-opening win over the New Jersey Devils on October 12, until their 6-4 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins a week ago. Since that win, the Bruins have lost 5-4 to the Montreal Canadiens the following night in Montreal, 4-2 to the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit this past Friday and now 3-2 in a shootout to the Flyers on home ice Sunday. Is the last week strictly the aforementioned hangover and fatigue from a short offseason finally kicking in or something more?
“Both,” Cassidy said bluntly. “I think there’s times you’re going to be, you’re going to lack a little energy. The October schedule, I thought, was good for us. It fell into, even though we started on the road, it was every second night and I thought we were able to play through it. We got our appropriate rest, now we’re a little more intense in games. So maybe it’s starting to hit us a little bit. We’ve got guys out of our lineup up front that we probably miss. Not putting it on the young guys, I think they’ve acquitted themselves well. So that’s part of it. But we’ve got to fight through it, and I thought we did at the end. So that’s got to be a little more of a mentality.”
The genesis of, what right now can be called a mini-slump, was likely in the second period of that win over the Penguins a week ago. The Bruins jumped out to a 3-0 lead 4:22 into the second period of that game and then with all intensive purposes, they stopped playing. The Bruins were out-shot 21-6 in the middle frame of that game and allowed four straight goals to the Pens, ending up down 4-3 headed to the third period. Just as they did in the third period against the Flyers Sunday, they were able to take advantage of their opponent’s fatigue and tie the game. Unlike last Monday against the Penguins though, the Bruins couldn’t steal the two points they clearly didn’t deserve.
In that second period against the Pens – easily their worst of the season so far – the Bruins couldn’t find their way out of their own zone if Fred Cusick and Derek Sanderson – or for you younger folks, Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley – had been the narrators for their Waze app! Lazy clears and not enough cohesion between their puck-moving d-men and forwards did them in. Cassidy has seen a pattern develop from that nightmare 20 minutes and he’s not about to let fatigue serve as an excuse.
“A concern to me is getting out of our end a little quicker, we’ve got to — you know, we have some smaller guys in
the lineup with foot speed, so you hope that that’s an advantage with breaking pucks out, but right now it isn’t,” Cassidy pointed out. “I thought there was some goalie-[defense] communication issues as well. We could have been cleaner. And then the forwards get frustrated so they don’t manage it through the neutral zone, so they’re not seeing as much as they’d like and it snowballs. That would be my concern that we’ll start addressing [Monday].”
As Cassidy mentioned, the schedule has gotten more intense. The Bruins played 12 games in October. The schedule was spaced out with no back-to-backs. The Bruins have already played five games this month, played one set of back-to-back games and one string of three games in four days. They will play more such stretch and two more back-to-backs. The Bruins took a ‘screw the hangover’ attitude into the season, but a month in it appears that the hangover is setting in physically. There’s been a fair share of injuries so far, but just as they did during their run to Game 7 of the Cup Final last season, the Bruins still have a seasoned core that can recognize and correct mistakes rather than let them spiral.
“A lot of what we’re doing, we’re doing to ourselves, or letting teams in the game and getting some momentum, and not being able to shut that down with just a big shift, and I think it kind of snowballs” Bruins alternate captain Patrice Bergeron said Sunday night. “At the same time, yes, it’s an 82-game season and there will be some ups and downs. Like I’ve said, I’ve always said that before, it’s something that you face head first as a group. I’ve said that before and I trust this team. We know it’s in here and we have to just look at video and look at what we’re doing wrong and realize that there’s a lot of plays, where I think we can win battles and be on the puck, and. …keeping it simple. I thought in the third that was the biggest key and I thought we got a lot of good looks.”
The key now will be, as Cassidy pointed out, for the ‘smaller players’ to follow a leader like Bergeron and keep it simple. Whatever their hair of the dog was in October, they may want to take that again and nip this delayed hangover in the bud.