The Boston Bruins suffered their first shutout of the season Tuesday night as they were beaten 3-0 by the Columbus Blue Jackets behind a 34-save performance from rookie goalie Elvis Merzlikins.
As if their second straight loss – after blowing a 5-2 lead and losing 6-5 in a shootout to the Philadelphia Flyers the night before – wasn’t enough, the Bruins lost their starting goalie Tukka Rask 1:12 into the game. Rask was blindsided by what can only be described as an intentional hit to the head of the Bruins netminder by Blue Jackets forward Emil Bemstrom and immediately left the game with what was later confirmed as a concussion. Jaro Halak – fresh off a bad start the night before – was thrown right back into action on a night he thought he’d be chilling on the bench as the backup.
No penalty was called on the play and while some Bruins players unsuccessfully tried to engage Bemstrom into a fight later in the game, they never really responded enough for losing their all-star goalie. On that note, let’s jump right into the Five Takeaways from what turned out to be an embarrassing 1-1-1 three-game road trip and put up some major red flags about the character of this team!
Bruins Don’t Even Score For Rask
Just to get it out of the way here, yes the culture and temperature – especially this week after the Zack Kassian suspension – very likely played a role in the Bruins’ lack of response to having their goalie concussed by a blatant cheap shot from Bemstrom. After seeing Kassian get suspended for rag-dolling and subsequently pummeling Matthew Tkachuk after Tkachuk laid a third predatory hit on him in the Oilers’ 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames Saturday night, every team and player is on alert right now. Unfortunately, the climate of the league right now punishes those defending themselves from predators like Tkachuk and plays like the one by Bumstrom on Rask.
That being said, there are times, like when Kassian decided to take matters into his own hands to stop and deter Tkachuk, you do what your gut tells you to do. The Bruins did start to shadow Bumstrom and try to get him to fight but to no avail. Well, that’s where their collective gut and head coach Bruce Cassidy needs to decide that it’s time for the Bruins to either – as much within the boundaries of the game as you can stay – take some liberties with Merzlikins or with another key Blue Jacket like defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. The Blue Jackets were already missing start players up front so if they decided to take out arguably the Bruins’ most important player in Rask and an NHL All-Star, then yes retaliation is needed. It’s needed not just to let Rask know you have his back but for the entire team to feel like the “family” they always claim to be.
The problem with this Bruins team and really every team that has been under general manager Don Sweeney’s direction is that they don’t have the size-grit combo player that can send that message and not hurt the team’s chances by being stuck in the penalty box. Captain Zdeno Chara is the only one who can and from time-to-time, does, successfully defend his teammates. Heavy teams like the Blue Jackets, Washington Capitals and as they did in the Stanley Cup Final, the St. Louis Blues will simply be able to wear down the Bruins physically and emotionally because they know they can push them around and get away with it. This was one of those nights where Chara and the Bruins should’ve just agreed that retribution and pride were worth more than the two points and let the 6-foot-9, 250-pound rearguard send a message back. He didn’t and the Bruins either didn’t listen to that aforementioned collective gut feeling or even worse didn’t have one.
No Bounce Back From Philly
While the Bruins didn’t bounce back physically in this game, they also didn’t bounce back with a more consistent effort than when they basically stopped playing after they took a 5-2 lead over the Flyers 7:21 into the second period Monday night. Yes, the Bruins had some solid surges in the latter half of each period, specifically the second period when from 12:35 on in the middle frame, they out-shot the Blue Jackets 12-2 but also had some equally long and sometimes longer surges against them. They were out-shot 11-2 in the first seven minutes of that same second period and then essentially packed up their game after former Bruins forward Riley Nash made it 3-0 with 6:55 left in regulation. There just wasn’t enough push back both in terms of sustained pressure and physically from the Bruins again.
Halak More Controlled
After allowing three goals, then four and then five goals respectively in his last three games, Halak thought he was going to get a breather and time regroup from the bench Tuesday. Instead, he was called upon to help his already reeling team overcome seeing their starting goalie leave the game dazed with a head injury. Halak looked shaky at first letting in the Wennberg goal at 13:27 on the fifth shot he faced but calmed down after that, making three more saves in the first period, 13 in the second and ? in the third. Yes, he let in a powerplay goal at 5:46 of the final frame to Blue Jackets forward Kevin Stenlund but it was clear that Halak wasn’t fighting the puck as much on Tuesday. Halak finished with 24 saves on 27 Columbus shots.
Special Teams Not So Special
The vaunted Bruins powerplay went 0-for-4 Tuesday night, snapping their team-record 15-game goal-scoring streak on the man advantage. The Bruins ended up scoring 16 powerplay goals during the impressive streak. On a night that the powerplay was kept off the scoresheet, the penalty kill continued to struggle and that’s probably the more concerning aspect of the special teams right now. The usually dominant and suffocating penalty kill has now allowed a powerplay goal in five straight games, with seven total over that span. The kill is the Bruins’ bread and butter and something they take great pride in. They will need to correct it ASAP because they start a home-and-home with the Pittsburgh Penguins in Boston Thursday and then Pittsburgh on Sunday. With Sidney Crosby back, the Pens’ powerplay should be flying.
Perfection Line Imperfect
For only the sixth time this season, the Bruins lethal top trio of Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak were all kept off the scoresheet. For Marchand and Pastrnak, this was the second game in their last three games that they finished with goose eggs and Bergeron’s only goal in the last three games has come on the powerplay. Bergeron finished the 3-0 loss Tuesday with four shots in 18:27, Marchand had four in 20:05 and Pastrnak had two shots in 19:35. Marchand had one turnover and Pastrnak coughed it up twice. Is the ‘Perfection Line’ hitting a wall?