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Colageo: Boston Bruins Have Sprung Leaks



Boston Bruins

Given the offensive weaponry lost in the offseason, the Boston Bruins were at some point bound to fall on hard times. But a collapse of defensive structure suddenly unsalvageable by their typically spectacular goaltending was not on the radar.

The Boston Bruins are still 14-3-3 at the quarter pole but 1-2-1 in their last four and not for lack of run support. It’s rather because they suddenly cannot keep the biscuit out of their own basket.

After losing the Black Friday matinee, 5-2, to visiting Detroit and doubling down with a 7-4 loss on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, there are now four teams with fewer goals allowed than the 50 given up by the Bruins over 20 games this season.

Put aside for a moment any trade-rumor ramifications of Jeremy Swayman’s week versus Linus Ullmark’s. This mini-crisis is about the Bruins playing uncharacteristically sloppy to disjointed if not disengaged hockey, and neither goaltender being able to save them from themselves.

For the first time in the 184-game Goalie Hug Era (ie. over the life of the Ullmark-Swayman tandem now in its third season), the Bruins have given up five or more goals in consecutive games. This doesn’t count Games 1 and 2 of the opening round of the 2022 playoffs, in which Carolina’s fifth goal in both games went into an empty net.

Detroit’s fifth goal on Friday was also an ENG (by Dylan Larkin). Technicalities aside, goaltending is no longer covering up the propensity of this team to gift its opponents an early Christmas stocking stuffed with scoring chances.

Too many first periods this season have required Ullmark or Swayman to stand on his head until the Bruins could find their feet.

On Saturday in New York, neither happened in sustainable fashion. Ullmark faced nearly two dozen Grade A’s and gave up a career-high seven goals before turning away a late flurry of shots that pushed the Rangers’ game total to 40 and rendered his afternoon a tad less humiliating from a statistical standpoint.

Harken past Boston’s excellent response game at Florida to Monday night’s messy performance in Tampa, and this is three out of four games now that the best thing that can be said about the Bruins’ goaltenders is that it wasn’t their fault.

Not since Tuukka Time have cooler heads felt compelled to utter those words.

All that said, this remains an elite goaltending tandem, and whatever was on the table a week ago in an attempt to get Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney to part with Ullmark or Swayman is most certainly still on the table.

The week has posed no market shift on their value. Perhaps a little fatigue is setting in because, for the first time since the fateful playoff series against the Florida Panthers, both Ullmark and Swayman look human.

It’s been frankly unbelievable how impervious the 2022-23 Jennings Trophy winners had been to the ebbs and flows of their team’s defensive performances – until now. Coach Jim Montgomery nailed it last week when he said the reason the Bruins have the record they do is because of their goaltending.

Only one goalie hug over the past week, however, will fail to move the needle on Sweeney’s willingness to part with either.

Hockey Buzz reports that Sweeney has made repeated calls to Edmonton on Leon Draisaitl – heck, go big or go home I say – but it’s unlikely that GM Ken Holland, in his final year, is going to deal away a franchise pillar even if that player is approaching contract time on a team that has promised so much and delivered so little.

A more reasonable approach for the Bruins might be to take this as an opportunity to trend their team toward toughness (see below).

Before Friday’s loss to the Red Wings, I asked Montgomery if having Morgan Geekie back in the lineup would allow the Bruins to better evaluate personnel and determine if this roster is rugged enough to win in the end.

Montgomery did not hesitate to agree with the premise.

The foundation of success in the centennial season of Boston Bruins hockey has been keeping the Ullmark-Swayman tandem intact, along with last season’s defense core (minus free agents Dmitry Orlov and Connor Clifton).

So far it has more than worked.

That noted, Charlie McAvoy is easily Boston’s best hitter, and his recent four-game suspension for miscalculating on a bodycheck and clipping Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s head has muted the natural physicality in his own game. McAvoy is only now beginning to recapture his mojo.

Add the left-shooting Matt Grzelcyk back to the top pairing across from McAvoy, and management can similarly begin a season of evaluation regarding the deployment of Grzelcyk versus Derek Forbort pending pace of play versus physicality in Boston’s opponents.

A year or two from now, Mason Lohrei almost certainly will have become a mainstay, but this is still a development season for the rookie assigned back to the AHL over the weekend, along with journeyman forward Patrick Brown.

The best value in compensation for a goaltender may be in a left defenseman bringing the best of both, in-house specialists, and perhaps an ability to hit on a second pairing the way McAvoy can on the first. Is that too much to ask?

Meantime, a 35-year-old winger less than two years removed from double labrum surgery should not be a Stanley Cup contender’s most aggressive forward. Yes, Trent Frederic and Jakub Lauko are scrappy, and not every forward need be the second coming of Terry O’Reilly.

But, if Sweeney is compelled to deal one of his number-one goalies and cannot bring back a generational talent like Leon Draisaitl, then the next best thing is a significant upgrade in the toughness department.

We’re not talking about an enforcer skating 5:00 a game in the playoffs, I mean top-six, game-changing presence, a forechecker/scorer who distracts defensemen going back on retrievals the way a young Cam Neely ran roughshod over the Montreal Canadiens in the late ’80s.

This kind of prize is far more applicable to the Stanley Cup playoffs than any kind of talent promising a certain amount of point shares.

Imagine this team with some swagger.

I digress.

Remember when Patrice Bergeron was the world’s greatest faceoff man and the game of hockey was all about winning draws? Well, his and David Krejci’s 2023 retirements (and the loss of Tomas Nosek via free agency) have rendered the Bruins a 50% faceoff team.

At 51.4%, Johnny Beecher ranks 31st in the NHL in faceoffs. Charlie Coyle (36th) wins 53.1% and Pavel Zacha 51.2%. No other Bruin has taken 15% of the team’s faceoffs and is therefore not listed in NHL faceoff stats.

Matt Poitras has won 41.6% of his draws so far, and that number is somewhat inflated by careful matchups and avoidance of unnecessary situations for the rookie like defensive-zone draws with the game on the line.

As a team over the past week: The Bruins went 27-33 on the dot in Tampa, 32-19 in Sunrise, 32-31 against Detroit and 28-42 in New York.

If there is a lesson in letting the Panthers off the playoff mat last spring, it has to be that the Eastern Conference’s most-physical team gave 30 other teams a manual for playing the Bruins. Rim the puck hard around the boards and don’t let the Bruins get to Montgomery’s short-pass, puck-moving system. Disrupt with hits and make them pay a price to make strong puck plays. Chaos is the Bruins’ Kryptonite.

It would seem, irrespective of the Bruins’ newfound mediocrity on the draw, that it is some accomplishment of theirs to have gotten to the quarter pole of the 2023-24 season at 14-3-3 (.775), now the second-best record in the NHL.

Now they are facing some real, on-ice adversity.

This isn’t last year all over again after all.

Jacob Trouba was fined the maximum allowable $5,000 for delivering a two-handed whack to Frederic’s helmet, jolting his head sideways during a post-whistle face-to-face late in Saturday’s game at Madison Square Garden. The incident reminded me of the career-changing dent Wayne Maki put in Ted Green’s exposed skull 54 years ago. On social media, it exhumed memories of Marty McSorley’s two-handed connection that KO’d Donald Brashear in 2000.


1. Frederic has become the NHL’s pinata for “let ’em play.” The victim dictates the enforcement standards more so than the act or where on the ice it occurs. This can and does include any rule in the book, especially hockey plays but, as we’ve learned, obviously not limited to.

2. Two years ago, Trouba missed a hit on Sidney Crosby and chicken-winged him instead, changing a playoff series. So this is about Trouba even more.

3. So next game between the Bruins and the Rangers, spare me the lecture on how Frederic and Trouba wrestled for 15 seconds so it’s over like it never happened. And doubly spare me any interrogation as to what my lingering dissatisfaction implies.

Yes, hockey is a violent sport, but the NHL should refrain from wagging its finger at the Boston Bruins at moments like these. It’s bad form. And, while Lyndon Byers and Jay Miller aren’t jumping over the boards, maybe someday the Bruins will go back to being the team they were 10-15 years ago. We can dream, can’t we?

Centennial Season moment: The Boston Bruins’ longest-serving playoff beard?

Not the one that Raymond Bourque began growing on April 5, 1990, for Game 1 of the Adams Division opening-round series against Hartford and shaved off on May 24 prior to the final game of the Stanley Cup final.

No, that distinction belongs to the late Lanny Lee Larason, who passed away on Wednesday in Virginia.
Known through the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s to Bruins fans as Tom Larson, the TV38 and later NESN studio host for Bruins (and later Red Sox) games was an all-time great at his craft.

Larson promised in 1981 when he began growing the board that it wouldn’t come off until the Bruins once again won the Stanley Cup. The beard finally came off in 2011.

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