There have been losses this season where the Boston Bruins failed to empty the tank, and there have been other instances when mistakes or simple lack of execution did them in during disappointing defeat. This wasn’t either of those things, though, in a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders at UBS Arena on Thursday night with the B’s enduring a COVID outbreak that’s imploded the NHL roster.
The rag tag group on the ice gave the best that they could featuring mostly AHL or fringe NHL players and mustered 41 shots on net but didn’t have the skill or the will to anything more offensively than potting a Mike Reilly goal in the final minute to bust up the shutout. Without Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Craig Smith along with a number of fourth line types, the Bruins were forced to ice 11 forwards and six defensemen in true, undermanned fashion against an Isles team admittedly also missing Mat Barzal due to COVID protocol.
The Black and Gold also skipped Wednesday practice and Thursday morning skate given the circumstances, and that translated into a tentative first 10 minutes while the new group got used to each other on the ice.
“It’s been a nightmare, to be honest with you,” admitted Boston Bruins winger Nick Foligno, who had the bright spot in the game when he came to the defense of David Pastrnak and dropped the gloves with Matt Martin after the Isles tough guy previously punched No. 88 in the head. “”I’m always proud of this group. That’s the Bruin way. There’s no quit in this team even with everything we’ve faced in the last 24 hours. We found a way to come in here and just work. That’s something we can control. I think we also looked at it as an opportunity for some guys that don’t get the same kind of ice time.
“There’s an opportunity in front of them and I thought some guys played real hard tonight and gave us everything they had. It’s unfortunate we just didn’t get the bounces tonight. We created a lot of good chances, just couldn’t find a way to get them past Varlamov. Got to give him credit. More opportunities and more chances and more efforts like that are going to result in wins.”
Sure, there were some Boston Bruins mistakes along the way. Hockey is a game of miscues.
On the Isles first goal, both Mike Reilly and Brandon Carlo chased the puck below the goal line and left the net-front wide open for Cal Clutterbuck to swoop in and score.
— 𝐈𝐬𝐥𝐞𝐬 𝐅𝐢𝐱 (@IslesFix) December 17, 2021
And there were far too many perimeter shots amongst those 41 pucks fired at the Islanders net where a hungrier net-front presence might have produced more offense with the missing star-power.
David Pastrnak dangled to the front of the net and barely missed on a five-hole bid with a lot of net to shoot at.
But all in all, it was difficult to fault a team that’s shorthanded in every possible way due to COVID just like the Islanders, Senators, Blues and other teams have been throughout this season.
“I have no issue with the effort,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “I think our guys came to play tonight. I’d say after the first 10 minutes we were on our toes much better; we can attribute some of that to travel day issue, not practicing [on Wednesday], losing our morning skate today, maybe getting the legs going.
“All in all, I thought the guys competed hard, tried to play the right way, got better as the game went on. I thought we played a more assertive north-south game, which we’ve been trying to preach. Other than the first few minutes, we started buying into that and I thought we were attacking better.”
The big question now is “At what point does the NHL decide to shut things down with the Bruins?”
They are missing seven NHL players at this point and there could very well be more positive tests on the way based on other examples around the league. Bruins players and staff are so incredibly wary of getting marooned in Canada this weekend with a positive COVID result that they opted to stay behind and practice in New York on Friday prior to leaving for Montreal, who played to an empty building at the Bell Centre on Thursday for the first time in a long time.
There were reports that the Colorado Avalanche players were allowed to vote on whether to play on Thursday night while missing just a handful of COVID protocol players, but those reports were debunked on Friday morning. The Bruins said they certainly weren’t given that option and don’t really have any specific direction from the NHL as to how many quarantined players it would take before things would be suspended for at least a couple of days.
“I don’t believe so. That’s a question for Donny [Sweeney],” said Cassidy, when asked if the Bruins were given a choice of whether or not to play Thursday’s game. “It was not discussed with me. I was assuming we were playing all along even with being down one guy. My guess is if there were a few more positives then that option probably would have been on the table. But to my knowledge, it wasn’t on the table. We were here to play.”
The Boston Bruins were ready to keep on playing as they careened toward a possible breaking point to this whole season, but thankfully logic and reason prevailed as the NHL postponed Boston’s game vs. the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night. It remains to be seen if things will be completely shut down for the Black and Gold, but it’s been clear for a few days things are rapidly worsening for a Bruins team that simply had the bad luck of playing the Calgary Flames last weekend.