BOSTON – Same song, different verse same as the first for the Boston Bruins.
The B’s came strong out of the gate in Friday’s Turkey Day matinee against the New York Rangers but ended up tied after one period despite outshooting them 17-5 and faltered again in the third period in an eventual 5-2 loss to the Blueshirts at TD Garden.
The B’s have been outscored 21-16 in the third period as the final 20 minutes of the game continue to haunt the Black and Gold, and only the Sabres, Canucks, Islanders, Canadiens and Senators are worse in the final 20 minutes this season. That should be a major warning sign as the B’s move forward on the season.
The honest truth is that rudimentary defensive breakdowns sunk the B’s on Friday afternoon and once again a good offensive hockey team separated from the Bruins in the third period. It was a very winnable game tied 2-2 after 40 minutes where they once again self-destructed against an opponent talented enough to make them pay for it.
“We kind of pissed [a chance to win] away, to be honest with you,” Cassidy said of Friday’s performance. “I think there’s been too much of it in general. We just, as a group, have to do a better job with that. Understand where you are in the game. There’s going to be goals that are scored [against you] because guys are stronger than you or faster than you and they make plays or [get] calls or whatever.
“But you’ve got to play winning hockey at the right time, and I think for us, that’s when we get away from our identity…when we start having those breakdowns that are pretty straightforward.”
So where do the problems begin?
Well, at this point perhaps the Boston Bruins should put a halt to the Erik Haula run at the center position. Haula deserted his defensive responsibilities in the middle of the ice for each of the first two goals against and is sitting at a minus-5 with just one goal and three points in his first 17 games for Boston.
The game-tying score for the Rangers featured Haula completely drifting away from the slot area leaving Dryden Hunt all alone for the quick put-back of a Jeremy Swayman rebound to tie things up.
The Bruins should have seen enough of Erik Haula at center at this point. Completely drifts away from the middle of the ice in D-zone leaving Hunt wide open for rebound. Haula a minus-2 today pic.twitter.com/vx8lXn4W5F
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) November 26, 2021
But it goes beyond breakdowns from one player, obviously. The entire Bruins unit on the ice was dreadful on the eventual game-winner for the Rangers in the third period after the B’s got a reprieve when Chris Kreider’s “Michigan” lacrosse scoring attempt hit the crossbar. The Bruins were chasing the entire shift with the third line of Jake DeBrusk, Tomas Nosek and Craig Smith not able to win a puck battle and the shutdown pair of Derek Forbort/Brandon Carlo burnt by Ryan Strome, Julien Gauthier and Artemi Panarin.
Carlo is a minus-2 on the season and continues to be a player that’s really, really struggled regardless of who he is skating with as his partner. And Forbort dropped into a needless head-first dive as part of the issues on the game-winning strike with Panarin all too happy to bury the puck once he’d been allowed to get to the front of the net.
“I think the third goal is just an example of guys not playing winning hockey for whatever reason,” said Cassidy. “You got five guys on the ice who have been in the league a long time. I think the onus has to be shared there. They have to know their routes on the forecheck, their defending. I think that turns the game. Just a poor forecheck where they came right through our three forwards and then our D, not sure they defended as well as they could even though it was an odd-man rush.”
The hard truth is that the Boston Bruins rank 16th in the NHL with 2.88 goals allowed per game and have been porous defensively this season, particularly against quality teams. The players are taking a wait-and-see approach as they sit just outside a playoff spot in fifth place in the Atlantic Division.
“We have breakdowns where we seemed to get scored on plays from nothing,” said Brad Marchand. “It’s a couple little breakdowns that they capitalized on, and we didn’t capitalize on ours. Those are just the little things we have to clean up. If we do and we stop shooting ourselves in the foot, we’re going to be a hell of a team.”
That’s a nice sentiment, of course, but the Boston Bruins have a lot of things to “clean up” right now with a group that doesn’t seem to have all the answers right now.