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Haggs: Bruins ‘Need To Do Better Job’ After Another Defensive Meltdown

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Last night Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy took one for the underperforming hockey team battling some pretty sizeable gaps on their roster.

The B’s bench boss took responsibility, along with the rest of his coaching staff, after a 5-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers at TD Garden where the Bruins simply lost it defensively in the third period. There was tissue-soft play around the front of the B’s net, defensive zone coverage issues and flat-out flawed execution as they watched Leon Draisaitl score a pair of goals and pull away from a Black and Gold team that actually appeared to be in good shape through the first 40 minutes.

What we’ve seen over the course of the season’s first month is that the Boston Bruins are having a difficult time containing good offensive teams.

The Flyers dropped six on the B’s in the second game of the season, the Panthers and Hurricanes outscored the Bruins 7-1 in back-to-back games on the road, the Maple Leafs ran up five goals on the Bruins last weekend and now the Oilers blew up for three goals to pull away from Boston in a five-goal outburst.

“At some point, it’s not by accident. We have to do a better job [as a coaching staff],” said Cassidy. “It’s 11 games, some guys have been in the league for a while, so you assume they’re going to make [the plays], but they’re not. So you have to get the message across that there’s different ways to score goals. Not everyone can be (Patrice) Bergeron’s line. Not everyone can play like (Connor) McDavid.

“As a staff, we have to do a better job of getting the players to understand what they can be successful at — how they can help the team win. And then the offensive part of it is, one of those is just getting a little more shot mentality. We have addressed it but clearly it’s fallen on deaf ears, so we got to do a little better job addressing that.”

The Bruins are in a five-way tie for 19th in the NHL while allowing three goals per game, they are a minus-2 in goal differential that places them fifth in the Atlantic Division and Charlie McAvoy is the only defenseman on the Bruins roster with a positive in the plus/minus department. The simple truth is that the Bruins have not adequately replaced players like Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller and David Krejci as they’ve exited the organization.

That’s an indictment on a Bruins draft-and-development system that hasn’t adequately supplied the NHL roster with young, cheap replacement players. At 22 years old, Jack Studnicka should have been poised to step in and replace Krejci after he opted to head home to the Czech Republic, but the top forward prospect in the Bruins organization hasn’t been able to seize an NHL roster spot.

Now he’s back in Providence building up ice time and confidence after the Bruins once again flipped him between center and wing rather than leaving him at one position.

It’s even worse on defense where the Bruins expected players like youngster Jack Ahcan and former first round pick Urho Vaakanainen to replace what they’ve lost on the left side. When that didn’t happen, they were forced into dealing for Mike Reilly, and then they had to sign Derek Forbort as a big, tough enforcer-type when knee problems forced Kevan Miller into retirement.

Well, we’ve watched Forbort for a month and he is most definitely not Kevan Miller.

The compounding departures from the NHL roster have left the Bruins smaller, softer and less explosive offensively, and all of that spells big time trouble for a defense that can no longer shut down the other team’s best players. Or be relied upon to kill power plays when they need it most as they did last weekend against Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs.

That leads us to Cassidy, who fell on his sword and blamed himself and the coaching staff for coming up short with year’s group after a frustrating loss to the Oilers.

“We’re not good enough to make some of the plays we’re trying to make. That’s on us to make sure we’re playing the right way to (give us) the best chance we have to win,” said Cassidy. “Another good team found a way to beat us in crunch time. At some point, it’s not by accident. We have to do a better job.

“We absolutely beat ourselves. 100 percent. So I have to do a better job. When a team beats itself, that’s on us as a staff. We need to do a better job of getting them ready to play.”

But is it Cassidy and the coaching staff playing turnstile defense on Cody Ceci off an Edmonton offensive zone faceoff win? Or was that Jake DeBrusk?

Is it Cassidy and his staff turning over pucks in front of their own net, icing the puck unnecessarily or giving up inside position to the NHL’s leading scorer in Draisaitl? Because it looked to me like that was Brandon Carlo, who admitted after the game it was probably the worst period he’s played in his NHL career.

Yeah, it was that bad.

“That’s just one of those nights. The third period, one of the worst ones that I’ve had in my NHL career,” said Carlo, following the frustrating defeat. “But overall, you’ve got to take it, learn from it. Things just got away from us a little bit, I didn’t respond very well. But overall, a great learning experience.”

After 11 games, it’s clear that the Bruins have to tighten up and make some adjustments. One would suspect that the Boston Bruins are going to throttle back on the risk-taking and the offensive end, and play a tighter, more conservative approach with a group of players that aren’t producing enough offensively outside the Perfection Line to play fast and loose with the puck.

It’s something Cassidy was clearly grappling with earlier this week when reconciling what he’s seen of his hockey club against quality NHL opponents like the Flyers, Leafs, Panthers and Hurricanes this season.

“We’ve gone into Philly, Florida, Carolina and Toronto now – that are good hockey clubs – and they’ve made the extra play that we haven’t,” said Cassidy earlier this week coming off the Maple Leafs loss. “We’ve been in there tied in the third in Philly…Carolina was a close game and even Florida it was 1-1 or 2-1 late and they scored a power play goal against us. So they are making the plays and we are not. So what does that mean? Are they just better than us or are we just not there yet for 60 minutes?”

The bottom line with the Bruins: They are not as good as we thought they might be. The losses of Chara, Krug, Krejci, Miller and Tuukka Rask over the last couple of seasons has dramatically altered the DNA of the Boston Bruins, and they no longer look like a potential Stanley Cup contender.

Instead, they looked like a flawed hockey team probably good enough to make the NHL playoffs based on their dominant top line, their No. 1 defenseman and special teams that still have the chance to be pretty good. But maybe now we’re seeing why Patrice Bergeron is leaving it up in the air as to whether he’s going to return to the Black and Gold beyond this season.

The Bruins look like a hockey team that’s going nowhere fast this season unless they can find some answers with an NHL roster that looks like it’s got some pretty significant flaws to overcome.

 

 

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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Gord Nicoletti

Well chronicled Haggs!

McRib

Inexperienced defense. We don’t have one solid veteran with 500 plus games. Also the Def is 2 small and soft Gryz, Clifton, Reilly and Carlo plays small.

William Mahoney

With a team full of AHL players what do you expect!

Kevin

Krejci was the straw that stirred the drink. Make the deal for Hertl. Look at another D in the same deal with San Jose to create a blockbuster like Espo/ Ratelle from 70’s. Either stand pat and let BB slip into mediocrity. … find another suitor for Ullmark to create$$$

911pcr

Kevin, As much as I would love to see that, Sweeney/Neely will never risk it. As long as they make the playoffs, their jobs are secure.
It’s just sad that they continue to waste the best line in NHL – year after year after year.

Michael J Parahus

At this rate it is highly unlikely the B’s make the playoffs. The Metro conference is going to dominate the playoff teams leaving no room for the B’s in this years playoffs. (At this rate.) Tampa, Toronto and Florida will make the playoffs from the Atlantic, not the B’s.

FFNAM

“tissue-soft play” “Bruins smaller, softer”.Thank you for stating this, Haggs. You’re one of the only writers I share similar views. I’ve preached to the choir this was the trend for the Bruins years ago. I’m a 3+ decades bruins fan and the Big Bad Bruins is the only way for me. Watch every game thanks to the DVR (what an invention!). Last few years I fast forward or stop watching at all because the product does not appeal to me. Its my precious time, I want to be entertained. I revel in the rough, hard-nosed, nasty hockey the Bruins used… Read more »

Michael J Parahus

Don’t agree with you on the players the B’s are missing. Chara and Krug have been gone for a couple of years now. The B’s survived their losses without missing a beat in prior years. Miller was tough…but I don’t think losing him (he played so little) is or was a deal breaker….Forbort will prove to be as serviceable if not as tough. The real difference is losing Krejci and Rask….two franchise stalwarts who were oft ignored or maligned. That is what is really missing. Rask has a chance to be back…..but, the ship may be too far underwater by… Read more »

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