The Boston Bruins resembled their AHL affiliate in Providence heading into Thursday’s tilt with the Winnipeg Jets.
Jake DeBrusk (lower body), Marcus Johansson (lung contusion), David Pastrnak (broken thumb), Kevan Miller (upper body), Torey Krug (upper body) and Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) didn’t suit up against the Central Division leaders. That’s three top six forwards and three regulars on the blue-line for those counting at home.
The Bruins, with the likes of Paul Carey, Connor Clifton and Trent Frederic, had a chance to come away with two points in Winnipeg after overcoming another 2-0 deficit to even things up. Yet, they fell behind early and their self inflicted wounds haunted them all night as they squandered another chance to create seperation from the Maple Leafs in the race for second place in the Atlantic Division.
Bruce Cassidy’s squad carries a three-game regulation skid for the first time since falling to the Red Wings, Panthers and Lightning in early December. Here’s what we learned from Boston’s 4-3 setback in Winnipeg.
Bruins still looking to start on time
Remember a few years ago when the Bruins benched Tyler Seguin in Winnipeg for arriving late to a team meeting? Well, these things seem to come back around even with Seguin out of the picture.
Thursday marked the fifth time in six games where the Bruins trailed by two and the fourth time in that span where they allowed the first pair of tallies. Even when they scored first against the Blue Jackets and Senators in that span, the Bruins saw their lead wiped away quickly.
There’s no one remedy that will cure Boston’s slow starts. They need to find a way to collectively stay sharp from the get-go, and that hasn’t happened over the last two weeks.
“The other teams are taking it to us,” Cassidy told reporters about the slow starts. “They had more energy early on. Some of it could be fatigue in our group and some of it could be the personnel in the lineup in that they’re a little nervous to get started.
“There’s not one thing. There’s usually some different things that add up [to the slow starts] and that was the problem again tonight.”
Give Cassidy’s squad credit. They never quit regardless of the slow starts and deficits they face. But the Bruins need to make things easier on themselves and establish a good tempo in the opening frame. Saturday’s rematch with John Tortorella’s Blue Jackets would be a good starting point.
“First and foremost,” five-time Selke winner Patrice Bergeron said, “I think we shot ourselves in the foot at the start of every game.”
Self inflicted wounds reared their ugly head on the road trip
The Bruins got timely scoring during their 19-game run. Their stingy defense they displayed all season long certainly carried over during the near two-month span — aside from the high-scoring affairs they encountered on occasion.
Boston got away from that motto of strong defense and goaltending during its three-game trip from the opening puck drop on. The layers that were at the forefront of Cassidy’s gameplan got away from them in the 15 combined goals allowed in Pittsburgh, Columbus and Winnipeg.
Their defensive setup generally wasn’t all that bad — aside from Wheeler being all alone while batting in Tuukka Rask’s juicy rebound on the doorstep just 1:08 in — against a Jets offense that’s ranked seventh in goals for (239) and sixth in goals per game (3.41). But they made a habit of coughing up the puck at the worst possible times.
The turnovers piled up beginning with a failed clear attempt on a Winnipeg tally leading to an odd-man rush down the other end and Scheifele’s easy tap-in for his 33rd of the season.
The Bruins scored twice to get back in it and kept the high-octane Jets offensive attack in check during the middle 20. But they kept shooting themselves in the foot, especially on Jacob Trouba’s game-winner.
David Krejci won an attacking zone faceoff, but the Bruins turned the puck over and forced themselves to defend an odd man rush the other way. A streaking Trouba took Scheifele’s feed and banked home his own rebound for the go-ahead tally with 12:22 left in regulation.
Danton Heinen’s turnover leading to Nikolaj Ehlers’ 18th of the season with 6:58 remaining capped off Boston’s night of self-inflicted wounds.
The Bruins outshot the Jets 39-24 Thursday night. All of their shots on net came at even strength. But they couldn’t handle the puck and an opportunistic Winnipeg side sent them home without a single point on the three-game trip.
“Once we’re in our zone, I don’t think our defensive zone coverage is necessarily that bad,” Bergeron said. “It’s more unforced errors, you know, giving them the puck back and not taking the simple play and making it and getting it out of our zone. Once you do that, you get back in their zone and they’re going to make you pay. They’re a good team and it showed again tonight.”
Charlie Coyle and Joakim Nordstrom get back on the scoreboard
The Bruins are in a goal scoring by committee phase with two of their top four goal scorers out in Pastrnak and DeBrusk. Losing Johansson, Krug and Grzelcyk makes the task even more difficult than it already is.
They’ve gotten unlikely contributions at times this season. Sean Kuraly provided timely goals at the turn of the calendar year and fellow fourth line winger Chris Wagner is quite the find having netted double digit goals in his first season playing for his hometown squad.
Coyle and Nordstrom finding the back of the net is a welcome sign. The former, who gives Cassidy a third line anchor he desperately needed, finally scored for the first time since coming over from Minnesota for Ryan Donato at the trade deadline. The latter meanwhile broke a 25-game goal drought to even things up at 2-2.
We know Coyle — skating with Carey and David Krejci Thursday night — will likely go back to his third line center role when the Bruins get healthy again. Nordstrom’s lineup status isn’t as certain. But the Bruins need all hands on deck while the injured players heal from their wounds.
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