BOSTON – It seems that the frustration level is rising with Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy and his group of players.
It hasn’t just been the younger players, role players or middle-tier portion of the roster that has earned the coach’s ire as of late, however. For the second time in the last couple of weeks, the B’s bench boss has found the veteran leaders and core players on his Bruins roster in the crosshairs for mistakes that allowed the Islanders to come back and eventually take a 4-3 overtime decision against Boston on Thursday night at TD Garden.
The biggest gaffe came in the second period at the end of a four-minute power play for the Black and Gold after a high-sticking call on Scott Mayfield. The Bruins had a number of quality scoring chances they weren’t able to convert on, and the PP possession ended with a gassed top power play unit desperately still trying to make something happen.
Rather than make the safe play and get off the ice, Brad Marchand tried one last drive to the net and that turned into a 3-on-2 headed the other way with a group of tired B’s skaters on the ice futilely trying to make a change. Predictably, Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored as the trailer on the odd-man rush at the other end after Jaroslav Halak made the initial save, and the Islanders suddenly had life in the momentum-changing play.
“They played winning hockey in the third period better than we did. Power play. It’s a bad change and we got frustrated late in it. Guys we rely on and leaders that I’ve praised for years here. Disappointed in not just being able to grind it out and changing when you’re supposed to. You make the plays you’re supposed to. It might not go in, but you keep the momentum,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Obviously they’re going to get some juice from killing the penalty, but now they’ve killed the penalty and cut the deficit in half all in a quick strike. They need to be better in that situation. I expect better. That to me gave the Islanders some life that wasn’t necessary.
“We didn’t defend well enough in front of our net. We had to switch goalies, so that was difficult on Jaro to go into a situation like that. They finished around the net. We could have been harder, and we could have used an extra stop.”
It didn’t stop there, though. David Krejci couldn’t make a better play in the defensive zone to stop a centering pass from Pageau to get through to Oliver Wahlstrom waiting in front to lift a backhanded bid past Halak. And Charlie Coyle had his doors blown off by Nick Leddy’s outside speed in overtime creating a juicy rebound in the crease when Halak couldn’t adequately handle his testing shot from the face-off circle.
Coyle compounded the problem by failing to pick up Anthony Beauvillier at the front of the net once he was burned defensively, and it made for a horrendous opening shift to 3-on-3 overtime where the extra session was over before it even began.
That OT shift is not going to go on the highlight reels for Jaroslav Halak or Charlie Coyle https://t.co/BM9fkG8kdB
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) March 26, 2021
Perhaps the choice to start the Coyle/Anders Bjork pair in overtime was about rewarding what was Boston’s best line for most of the game, and the duo that scored the game-tying goal late in the third period.
But it was interesting that Marchand and Bergeron weren’t out there to start given how hot Cassidy still was about the second period PP mistake that opened the door for the Islanders after Boston rolled out a 2-0 lead.
“[Coyle and Bjork] had a good game. They had the best jump of anybody,” said Cassidy. “I’m not sure we played the rush very well. I think our ‘D’ could have had a little more patience and let Jaro have the original shot. Jaro was deep maybe thinking that there’s a pass coming. At the end of the day that was the choice, and it didn’t work out.”
The Bruins are a mediocre 6-8-2 in their last 16 games and lucky to be in a playoff spot at this point as injuries and long pauses in the playing schedule have wrecked their momentum at the start of the season. Now mistakes are being compounded, effort and execution have been inconsistent, and Cassidy is criticizing some of his best players, a coaching tactic he has used sparingly during his years guiding the Black and Gold.
Does any of this have to do with former Bruins captain Zdeno Chara departing for the Washington Capitals when none of these problems seemed to exist in past Cassidy seasons? Everybody spent so much time worrying about opponents taking liberties on the B’s players without Chara’s presence on the bench, but perhaps there was an even bigger danger that the 6-foot-9 leader’s absence would create some cracks in Boston’s strong leadership foundation.
It’s something to ponder as the Bruins continue to spin their wheels, make mistakes and fritter away points in what’s been a frustrating month of hockey headed into a second half where they will play 27 games in roughly 47 days to end the regular season.