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Haggs: Boston Bruins Sliding Into ‘Tough’ Late Season Funk



Boston Bruins

BOSTON – While a loss here or there could absolutely be explained away after the Boston Bruins played so well in the month of March, there is no question they are in the middle of a bad, bad funk right now with the playoffs right around the corner.

The Boston Bruins suffered their third straight regulation loss on Thursday night in a frustrating 3-2 defeat to the Ottawa Senators and continue to lose players to injuries in almost every game that they play right now. This time it was goalie Linus Ullmark exiting in the first intermission after taking an Erik Brannstrom shot to the helmet in the first period, and the Boston Bruins subsequently crumpled again in the second period while watching a 2-0 advantage quickly fade away.

The problems are twofold for the Black and Gold right now when it comes to protecting the frittered leads. They aren’t able to extend leads with the talented bodies that they’re missing from the lineup, including game-breaker David Pastrnak whose absence has coincided with an 0-for-23 slump for the Boston Bruins power play that’s truly hurting the B’s right now.

Then there are the defensive breakdowns and puck management issues in the neutral zone, which have cropped up again and again in games. It inspired Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy to lambaste his team for playing “not very intelligent hockey” in a Tuesday night loss to the St. Louis Blues, and again was frustrating on Thursday when Ottawa’s special teams units schooled Boston at both ends of the ice in the loss.

Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said he wasn’t frustrated personally, but it feels like there is some kind of disconnect happening with the players right now.

“Frustration is a useless emotion, so I’m not frustrated,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “I want to correct things. We had some miscommunications on the bench [against the Senators], we had some lack of focus, especially on the power play when we’re going back to our own end there late, almost took ourselves out of the game. [There’s a] lack of finish with some guys, obviously, that is hurting us right now, and not shooting at the appropriate times.

“Certainly, some guys we rely on, on a regular basis every night, aren’t putting up the numbers right now for whatever reason. We’ll look a little closer at that. I don’t think it’ll go on forever, they’re too good. Some other lines need to get back to their game.”

The Sens scored twice on a 5-on-3 power play in the second period to tie and then take the lead in the game, which turned out to be the turning point for a Boston Bruins hockey club experiencing trouble finishing off plays offensively. Some of it was on Mike Reilly for a high-sticking penalty that’s become a little too common with him slumping game as of late, and some of it was spotty officiating on a soft hooking call on Patrice Bergeron with the Bruins already down a man.

Either way none of it was good enough to beat a hockey team already making golf plans for next month.

“We needed to be better on special teams tonight, first, second and third period…all of the above. [The Senators] made a lot of good plays, and they got to run the plays they wanted to with a lot running through [Tim] Stutzle. He’s a dangerous player and he made some good plays,” said Cassidy. “What they did a lot better than us was hit the net. They made a lot of quick plays and hit the net. We spent some time in the O-Zone [on the PP] but we were just off the net with way too many chances. It’s a bit of our issue on the power play a lot, but it’s just coming back to haunt us now.

“We need something good to happen on the power play, so they can just relax and start moving it like they’re capable of.”

The only goals came from rookies Marc McLaughlin and Jesper Froden, a pair of players that haven’t been on the roster for most of this season and weren’t really in consideration for playoff playing time until very recently.

For McLaughlin, it’s his third goal in six games while averaging 10:33 of ice time per game and showing a real nose for the net by hanging around the areas where goals get scored. But it also underscores just how far too many Boston Bruins players have gotten away from a simpler, more effective style of play that had them racking up points just a few weeks ago.

The three straight regulation losses are the first time in over two years that it’s happened to a consistent Boston Bruins hockey club, and it’s all happening to them at the exact wrong time. They’re still just three points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the third spot in the Atlantic Division (and a first round series vs. the Maple Leafs), but right now are looking at a wild card spot and a first round date with a Carolina Hurricanes team that’s been a problem for them all year.

That should be a concern even if their current slump is the bigger B’s worry at hand. Some of it is about injuries, some of it is undoubtedly fatigue as the Boston Bruins have hit the last few weeks of a tremendously busy few months and some of it is Boston simply cooling off after a furiously productive period last month.

But some of it is also about a Boston Bruins team sinking into bad habits with mental and physical errors, and that’s the part that needs to reverse itself prior to a postseason where those miscues will be fatal.

“It’s something that was kind of happening at the beginning of the year,” said Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, when asked about leads slipping away in games as of late. “I don’t know if it’s fatigue or lack of urgency. It’s tough to see, obviously. You take two penalties, and they capitalize on both. You’ve got to put out a fire there, but it’s obviously something that we’ve got to address.”

Whatever the reasons behind it, the Boston Bruins need to find answers quickly amidst their worst losing stretch all year with the most important part of the season straight ahead.

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