The New York Islanders have the Boston Bruins’ number.
Not only did the Bruins suffer their third regulation loss of the season to the Islanders on Thursday, but they did it in a rather ugly fashion.
It wasn’t for a lack of effort for the opening 40 minutes. The Bruins came out of the gates flying as Nick Ritchie scored 62 seconds in on a brilliant feed from Jakub Zboril. They fell behind after Adam Pelech’s rebound tally and Mat Barzal finishing a 2-on-1 in the opening stanza, yet evened things up in the second after Craig Smith’s attempted pass to Jack Studnicka — who hit a post on a wide-open net in the first — deflected off an Islanders defender past Semyon Varlamov.
Bruce Cassidy’s squad unraveled in the third, beginning with Trent Frederic’s horrific turnover in front of Jaroslav Halak leading to Anthony Beavuillier’s go-ahead tally. The snowball effect continued as the Bruins rarely handled the puck cleanly as the Islanders skated circles around them. Jordan Eberle, Jean-Gabriel Pageau (shorthanded), Anders Lee and Olivier Wahlstrom added injury to insult in a 5:48 span as the Bruins suffered their worst setback of the 2021 campaign.
“Tonight was hopefully a one-off,” Ritchie said after scoring his seventh goal of the season. “They just filled the net there within a few minutes. We just fell apart and we kind of stopped playing.”
Here’s what we learned from Bruins’ the ugly 7-2 loss to the Islanders
No urgency in the Final 20
Frederic witnessed the highest of highs in his first extended stay with the Bruins. He showcased his blue-collar work-ethic through some spirited fights and relentless puck pursuit along the boards. The former Wisconsin Badger came into Thursday’s matchup fresh off of scoring his first career NHL goal in Boston’s 7-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in Lake Tahoe.
In their third game against the Islanders, Frederic had his lowest on-ice point of his NHL career when he whiffed on a clear attempt in the defensive end. Beauviller pounced against a helpless Jaroslav Halak en route to his first goal in 40 games.
The Bruins rarely garnered any attacking zone time after that against a stout defensive Islanders squad, aside from a few seconds on their final power play attempt. They’re not exactly an offensive juggernaut averaging only 2.68 goals per game. But the opportunistic Isles pounced on Boston’s mistakes and ran the Bruins out of the Nassau Coliseum.
“Well, there wasn’t any [urgency], so that’s a problem. I usually don’t see that with our club. We’ve got some young players in the lineup, so we’re going to live with certain mistakes. It’s a good defensive team. They don’t give you much. You need to have patience. We found our game halfway through the first, into the second and we were in a good position in the third. We made some poor decisions…”
The Bruins did some things well in the first 40 minutes. Their good habits didn’t carry over into the final 20.
Cassidy’s squad may have a thing or two to review on film in the morning, yet a second game in 24 hours might not be a bad thing after dropping three of their last four games.
Could a quick turnaround help the Bruins?
The hectic schedule of an NHL season presents a handful of back-to-back games in a given season. At times, the scenario becomes detrimental to any team immune to a cold spell. In other instances, a second game in as many days could be beneficial following an uninspiring effort.
The Bruins fit the latter description entering Friday’s tilt against the Rangers in front of a socially distant Madison Square Garden fanbase. Playing in front of supporters for the first time in 11 months — albeit limited — provides a unique opportunity in its own right. But the Bruins will have one thing in mind for Friday: righting the ship.
“This game is about breakdowns and turnovers and being able to capitalize on that and being able to limit it. It certainly was a big factor tonight. It’s a long season. I know this season is short[er], but you can’t dwell on things,” Smith said. “Tomorrow night we have another one we have to get ready for, and you can’t lose two in a row.”
Smith and company earned a pair of wins against the Broadway Blueshirts a couple of weeks ago. At 6-9-1 the Rangers enter Friday’s tilt a desperate bunch without the services of offensive dynamo Artemi Panarin.
The Bruins have a golden opportunity to bounce back in their upcoming two-game series against the Rangers. Yet, even as they battle the injury bug, they can’t afford to lose further ground in a tightening East Division.
Isles provide a potential playoff nightmare
The Bruins and Islanders have five more meetings scheduled for this unique 2021 campaign. They’ll only have one more meeting at Nassau Collseium — a house of horrors for Cassidy’s bunch — with the other four tilts taking place at TD Garden, including March 23, the first day the building will be open to fans.
Cassidy and company sit tied with the Washington Capitals — with two games in hand — and one point ahead of the Islanders in the East. With the way things are trending, the Bruins and Isles could very well meet in the postseason this spring.
Of all the teams in the division, the Isles possess the biggest threat and not just because of their three wins. Boston’s well-documented 5v5 struggles don’t bode well against any solid defensive squad, let alone a trap-happy Isles bunch. The Lightning and Blues exposed the Bruins at even-strength in previous postseason eliminations. The Isles showed they’re more than capable of lighting the lamp in said scenario, ending last year’s postseason by outscoring opponents 44-35 in 5v5 play.
The Islanders have outscored the Bruins 9-4 in 5v5 play through three meetings. They’re outperforming Boston’s dynamic special teams as well, with a pair of shorthanded goals and a man-advantage tally. The Bruins failed to light the lamp in their seven power play opportunities against Barry Trotz’s club.
Of course, things could change between now and a potential spring playoff series. The Bruins fared well in previous circumstances, including their 2018 first-round win over the Maple Leafs after losing three of four to Toronto in the regular season. Yet against a solid defensive and opportunistic squad, the Bruins need to find a way to break the Isles’ rhythm before discussing this scenario further.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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