It hasn’t been the best 48-hours for the Boston Bruins
After a 7-2 beatdown in Long Island Thursday night against the Islanders, the Bruins somehow followed up their worst outing of the year with an equally as ugly performance. This one came in the form of a 6-2 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
The game was their first in front of fans since last March, giving the hometown fans a lot to be happy about and a lot to laugh at.
“This doesn’t happen here, and it can’t go on any further than this,” said defenseman Brandon Carlo. “There’s been times my first couple of years we’ve had one game like that, but we’ve always bounced back, so this is definitely unacceptable, and we have to look in the mirror, move forward, recognize and learn from the last two days.”
You can’t point to one aspect of the Bruins last six periods of hockey and say ‘you’re to blame’ for this. Their offense has been lackluster, defense non-existent, goaltending mediocre and special teams has been uninspiring.
"It's not about finger pointing right now, it's about everyone coming together and being better," said Patrice Bergeron who moved into sole possession of the No. 5 spot on the team’s all-time scoring list with 889 points after his third period goal.
"Hockey is about staying together as a team when things are up and when things are down, it's about figuring out things you can be better at and right now it's five-on-five play defensively."
With all due respect, Patrice, it’s a little more than five-on-five play defensively. But yes, let’s start there.
In their losses to the Islanders and the Rangers, the Bruins have allowed 10 five-on-five goals, scoring four themselves. They’ve allowed 49 scoring chances in those two losses, with 29 of those coming in high-danger areas.
A far cry from what we’ve seen from the Bruins prior to this ugly week. How much of that however stems from injuries to Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon and Kevan Miller?
"Knowing that we have some valuable guys out, the stiffness out in front of our net with Lauzon and Miller and the puck mover in [Grzelcyk] one in each pair." said head coach Bruce Cassidy.
"As a team, you have to pick up that group and that means an extra save along the way. That means secondary scoring and working hard to get back in your own end as forwards to limit the damage. Winning your wall battles so that we don't have to defend a lot."
With Lauzon and Miller out of the lineup, the Bruins lost some size and toughness on their blue line, and the Rangers took full advantage of that. From Urho Vaakanainen getting out-muscled on key plays in the d-zone, and Carlo’s inability to recover from some poorly timed decisions, the Bruins skeleton crew of a defense too often has been exposed over the last two games.
"We're missing them, but it's been the motto in our locker room for many years that it's about the next guy up," said Bergeron. "We believe in them and we have to do their job, bottom line. It's the five guys on the ice defensively."
Cassidy was vocal about needing more from his depth players, the guys in the middle of his lineup as he put it. Other than Jack Studnicka—who has looked great in two games at center—none of the Bruins on the ice Friday did anything that you could pull from the game and say ‘we can build off this.’
"The guys in the middle that have an opportunity and some days go home and say ‘gee I wish I got more minutes,’ or ‘I had a better chance.’ That middle group: the Bjorks, the DeBrusks, the Johnny Moores and Cliftons that have been out of the lineup--the Wagners and Kuralys. They need to put a little onus on themselves to impact the game,” Cassidy said.
“Whether it’s offensively, or whether it’s physical. When they talk to me about what they need to do to stay in the lineup, tonight is a good example of that.”
The Bruins were tied at two entering the third period Thursday before a five-goal third by the Islanders pushed the game out of reach. After Bergeron cut the Rangers lead to one four minutes into the second, the Bruins failed to muster anymore of a push, allowing the Rangers to score the next three goals, burying any chance of a comeback.
In two opportunities where any resemblance of a positive compete level could have changed the fortune of either game, the Bruins were left chasing the puck, making poor decisions, and losing puck battle after puck battle.
The Bruins have a chance to avoid any further disaster in New York on Sunday when they complete their brief trip through New York before returning home to begin March with three straight home games.
In the form of a better effort, Cassidy hopes to see a different team Sunday afternoon.
"The message was we're right back here on Sunday, so we got to keep playing, keep playing our game. If we're able to get the next goal, put them on their heels a little bit, you got to think bigger picture here and find your game,” said Cassidy.
“it's a bit of a mental battle."