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Haggerty: Good Show For Boston Bruins, But Issues Still Remain

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BRIGHTON, Mass — It’s all good when it comes to the Boston Bruins exploding for seven goals last weekend against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 7-5 win on Saturday afternoon.

Brad Marchand dusted off a hat trick with an empty netter at the end of the game to cinch it against a Penguins team that admirably refused to go down without a fight and is playing excellent hockey right now.

That in itself was great because to led to hats raining down on the ice at TD Garden for the first time in what feels like forever.

David Pastrnak busted out of a five-game slump with a pair of goals and followed up his worst of the game season last Thursday with two goals, three points, five shots on net and three takeaways while being perpetually dangerous with the puck. Patrice Bergeron scored as well, won 16-of-21 face-offs and both 37 and 63 looked comfortable playing with the hustling, shoot-first Craig Smith on their right wing.

Pastrnak, David Krejci and Nick Ritchie were super-effective on the second line as well. Krejci’s group has been playing strong hockey for the last couple of weeks and that marked a continuation of some very good things.

The bottom line: Things are starting to come together for the top-6 forwards in whatever combination Bruce Cassidy is slotting them in. That’s a welcome development in the second half of the season as the Bruins battle to protect their playoff spot in the East Division with a four-point lead on the Philadelphia Flyers.

“It’s in the room. It was all our top guys. Obviously, you’re going to have games like this throughout the year with the resumes they have, [guys like] Pastrnak, Marchand, Bergeron Krejci,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We just haven’t had a lot of them for whatever reason. I thought all the goals we scored [on Saturday] were excellent. There were no fluky ones or freebies. High-end plays by high-end players.”

But there are still issues gnawing at the good B’s vibes after a win where Boston’s best players stepped up and reminded everyone how good they can be at their best.

The third and fourth lines were virtual non-factors with Charlie Coyle getting no shots on net in a look at right wing, and the entire third line managed just one shot on net from Sean Kuraly with Anders Bjork posting a goose egg as well. Similarly, Trent Frederic, Zach Senyshyn and Jack Studnicka looked overmatched against a Penguins team executing at a very high level, and all three young players finished with under 10 minutes of ice time.

It’s just one game, of course, but the Bruins aren’t going to be capable of stringing wins together during a grueling second half unless they start getting more production, more impact and more of everything from their entire lineup.

“We just need to keep working at the things that we’re doing well keep improving the things that we’re not doing well. Just keep it rolling,” said David Krejci. “We only have 20 games or so left until the playoffs. It seems like a lot, but it’s not. We need to develop those good habits and build something here. You play the right way and keep winning games. It was a good step in the right direction.”

On the back end, it’s a similar story with Brandon Carlo now out for a longer term with an upper body injury unrelated to his concussion. Steve Kampfer and Jakub Zboril were fine as a two-way pairing but can’t consistently find that offensive push as a middle pair at the NHL level. Connor Clifton and Jarred Tinordi were victimized for some goals against vs. Pittsburgh as they continue to experience difficulties breaking the puck out.

As with the Bruins forwards up front, the Bruins are struggling mightily in the puck-moving and offense departments from their back end beyond the top pairing of Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk as a premium puck-moving duo.

It’s a top-heaviness and depth problem that will only be alleviated with more talent coming into the fold.

“Grzy and Charlie tend to play well together and that was no different today,” said Cassidy. “I thought Kampfer and Zboril were okay. In puck-moving situations they can have some success with that, but they just need to be careful of their match-ups size-wise.

“Tinordi hasn’t played in a while with Clifton and that was a bit of what’s left. I think they can be cleaner with the puck. They have to be; they have to execute. If we’re going to create offense, then we need to get it out of our end and keep it out of the net. Your first touch is very important with the [defensemen]. We gave up five goals, but I wouldn’t put it all on them.”

The Boston Bruins are badly in need of a quality top-6 winger and a quality top-4 defenseman that can allow guys like Craig Smith and Jakub Zboril to slot back into their proper positions within the Black and Gold lineup. That’s a Herculean task for the B’s management group to accomplish at the trade deadline and it remains to be seen if Don Sweeney can get it all done.

Adding to the degree of difficulty is the Boston Bruins evaluating their own place in the NHL this season with Tuukka Rask on the shelf with a suspected bad back. It’s an alarming development for the 34-year-old No. 1 goaltender and leaves the B’s wondering if a massive trade investment is even worth it at this point if Rask can’t come back at 100 percent.

The good news is that Rask was out working before Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, but nobody knows if his injury will become a chronic thing.

The whole injury situation could seriously cause the Bruins to reconsider the big picture at the goaltending position as well, with Dan Vladar playing well and a possible future No. 1 guy in Jeremy Swayman waiting in the wings at Providence. The Bruins don’t have much time to figure this all out, either, with the NHL trade deadline arriving exactly a week from now.

Saturday’s win provided a well-needed reprieve for the Bruins physically, mentally and spiritually, but the same problems remain for a flawed B’s group making their march toward the postseason.

 

Joe Haggerty has covered the Boston Bruins and the NHL for 18 years with NBC Sports Boston, WEEI.com, the Boston Metro and the Woburn Daily Times, and currently serves as lead Bruins reporter and columnist for Boston Hockey Now. Haggs always strives to capture the spirt of the thing any way that he can.

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