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  • What we learned: One point for effort, but struggles with Islanders continue

    Tim Rosenthal March 9, 2021

    The Boston Bruins can’t wait for the New York Islanders to open their new digs at Belmont Park in the fall.

    Nassau Coliseum became a house of horrors for Bruce Cassidy’s club during the 2021 shortened season. They made their final regular-season trip to the old Long Island barn with the same result: a loss to the East Division-leading New York Islanders.

    It wasn’t for lack of effort. The Bruins came out with a steady attacking zone rhythm. Jaroslav Halak looked sharp in net during his 26-save outing. David Pastrnak tallied his 400th career NHL point.

    The Bruins even salvaged their first point of the season against the red-hot Islanders following after dropping off a bit in the final stanza. They exchanged chances with the Islanders in a thrilling 3-on-3 extra session for five minutes. But they just couldn’t get that extra point.

    At times, the Bruins found difficulties generating 5v5 chances in another heavy contest against the Islanders. They had a miscue on Brock Nelson’s tying tally during a second-period power play. Yet, there was more good than bad, according to Cassidy, following the 2-1 shootout loss.

    “I thought we were the better team,” Cassidy said after watching his team outshoot the Islanders, 33-27. “We didn’t have much luck around the net. Certainly, they had a few opportunities…but other than that, I liked our team’s effort from start to finish.”

    Even after the solid effort, the Bruins now find themselves in fourth place in the East with a mere one-point cushion over the fifth-place Flyers. Here’s what we learned as the Bruins dropped to 3-5-2 in their last 10 games.

    Power play ends drought

    As injuries forced Cassidy to adjust his potent power play, a once lethal weapon to Boston’s arsenal became out of sync over the last few weeks. The Bruins carried a six-game drought on the man advantage into Tuesday.

    It didn’t take the Bruins long to end that drought, with Pastrnak lighting the lamp on a shot from the point for career point No. 400.

    The Bruins fired four shots on Varlamov in their two chances with the man advantage. The Isles netminder robbed Krejci with a highlight-reel stick save, preventing another Boston play tally. Through it all, the power play looked much more fluent in their setup and cycle, generating a handful of quality scoring chances.

    “Obviously, it was big for our power play,” Pastrnak said. “We’ve been going through some tough times the past couple of games, so it was good to get a PP goal. We just have to move more to get to each other’s spots and just move [our feet]; that’s when we recover pucks. It’s been a while since we’ve had puck possession in their zone for a while. So yeah, it’s a good PP goal, and hopefully we can carry that over.”

    As much as they need to improve their secondary scoring and 5v5 output, Pastrnak and company need goals any way they can get them. Getting the power play back on track provides a step in the right direction. Perhaps they can use that as a trickle down effect going forward.

    Jack Studncika brought needed energy to the second line

    The secondary scoring issues forced Cassidy’s hand on a handful of occasions. Jake DeBrusk found that out firsthand after Cassidy benched the 2015 first-round selection following a string of frustrating efforts.

    This prompted a promotion for Studnicka, who moved from a fourth-line center role — with Sean Kuraly returning — to fill the second-line right-wing vacancy. His outing with David Krejci and Nick Ritchie provided another building block.

    Studnicka’s hard-nosed effort created some quality scoring chances for himself and his linemates, including feeding a one-timer to Ritchie that hit the post. He found himself parked on the doorstep at the tail end of the third period only for that scoring chance to fall wayside.

    “Studs is a natural center. We’ve addressed this whether he should be playing right [wing] or how that’s going to work for our team. But we made a decision with Jake [DeBrusk], so we moved Studs over,” Cassidy said of Stutdnicka’s transition to second-line wing for Tuesday’s matchup. He’s always going to give you maximum effort. He’s a young kid learning his way in the league.

    “I thought Ritchie was excellent with his decisions with the puck through thte neutral zone. He had some big hits, made some plays down below the goal-line. And Krech [Krejci] had a little more jump — tough luck on the power play there, it looked like he had a sure goal,” Cassidy said of Krejci and Ritchie’s outings. “I thought [the second line] had a solid game for us.”

    Studnicka is a projected top-six center in the long run. His versatility provides an interesting dynamic as the Bruins attempt to increase their secondary scoring output. Of all the forwards outside of the potent Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Pastrnak trio, Studnicka may be the one inching closer toward a breakthrough.

    Matt Grzelcyk starting to gain confidence

    The Bruins came into the 2021 campaign with a transitioning defensive core after Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara departed for new homes in the off-season. Since late January, the injury bug forced Cassidy’s hand into makeshift defensive units.

    Grzelcyk became one of the first blue-liners to fall victim to the injury bug. He returned after a couple of weeks on the shelf only to sustain a lower-body ailment in his first game back.

    After healing from his second lower-body injury, the former Boston University captain returned to the lineup again one week ago in the first of two meetings with the Capitals. This time, he found himself skating next to ex-college teammate Charlie McAvoy as the Bruins navigated through more injuries on the back end, mainly to Brandon Carlo, Jeremy Lauzon and Kevan Miller.

    Grzelcyk looked more comfortable in his fourth game back, tallying an assist on Pastrnak’s power-play tally and two shots on net in 21:14 of ice time. He displayed his keen offensive traits, helping the Bruins transition much more fluidly into the attacking zone compared to Sunday’s loss to the Devils.

    For a team struggling to find the back of the net — scoring a paltry seven goals in four games with five coming in Friday’s win over the Washington Capitals — the Bruins could use a consistent offensive output from a healthy Grzelcyk. Pairing him with McAvoy provides them with a speedy and skilled combination every time they touch the ice.

    “Right now we have [Grezlcyk and McAvoy] playing together, so let’s see how that goes moving forward. But we need Gryz to be that guy — that transition guy — to give some easy access to the forwards,” Cassidy said of Grzelcyk.

    “We’re having trouble scoring goals, that goes without saying. Some of that falls on the forward’s ability to get inside and make plays themself. But most good offensive teams…if they have D that can initiate the breakout and initiate some transition where forwards are getting some rush chances, it just makes it easier for everybody. And Gryz is a valuable guy when it comes to that.”

    They didn’t get the result on Tuesday. But Grzelcyk, McAvoy and the rest of the Bruins have an effort to build on heading into their next two-game series with the Rangers beginning Thursday at TD Garden.

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    Tim Rosenthal

    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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