The Boston Bruins created separation from the Philadelphia Flyers after notching five points in their last six games. They could’ve all but put them out of their proverbial misery in the playoff picture with Saturday’s season series finale.
That didn’t happen.
The Bruins came out flying in the opening period only to see the Flyers counter Patrice Bergeron’s tally with Travis Konecny and Shayne Gostisbehere (on the power play) scoring 5:55 apart to give Philly a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission.
Even with Jake DeBrusk’s second-period equalizer, the Bruins faced an uphill battle. An upper-body injury to Matt Grzelcyk put an already shorthanded defense — without Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy — into a further hole. Compile that with Jeremy Swayman’s first shaky outing of the season and a short-circuiting power play you have yourselves a formula for an off afternoon.
The Bruins’ effort wasn’t porous by any means. But they couldn’t stave off a desperate Flyers bunch. Sean Couturier netted the game-winner against an aggressive Swayman 6:59 into the final stanza to give Philly the 3-2 victory.
Here’s what we learned as the Bruins lead over the Flyers dropped to four points for the East’s final playoff spot.
Defensemen dropping like flies
The Bruins knew they wouldn’t have their top right-shot anchors on the back end this weekend. They also knew that a returning Kevan Miller wouldn’t suit up for Sunday’s tilt with the Capitals for precautionary reasons.
Saturday provided little room for error or further injuries. They made one too many mistakes against the desperate Flyers. In midst of their tilt with the Broad St. Bullies, they lost Grzelcyk to an upper-body injury following the opening 20 minutes of play.
Grzelcyk didn’t leave immediately. In fact, he took another shift after Couturier delivered an accidental elbow to Grzelcyk’s face.
Playing with five D, Boston’s defensive structure didn’t necessarily go haywire on them. They held the Flyers to 16 of their 23 shots on net without Grzelcyk in the final 40. The desperate Flyers found creases in the Bruins’ layers, however, en route to their much-needed victory.
“I liked our effort,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You know we lost another defenseman early — it’s happened a lot to us this year — so you’re leaning on other guys. A guy that we rely on in Gryz, power-play situations we saw the effect on that. Obviously, they have a lot to play for — every team does this time of year for those still in the mix — so that certainly has something to do with it.”
“We had a few breakdowns that they converted on. We didn’t give up a whole lot [of chances],” Cassidy added. The goals they scored you can’t fault Swayman. The goals they scored, you can’t fall Swayman. Pucks went through some of our D on those that they hope you don’t put out the fire on those and maybe you finish a play on the other end.”
The constant defensive injuries have put the Bruins under fire throughout the season. Because of this, Don Sweeney’s main trade deadline agenda shifted from acquiring a secondary scorer for the top-six to stabilizing the defense core.
Cassidy said Grzelcyk is day-to-day, but he didn’t rule him out for Sunday’s tilt with Washington at TD Garden. McAvoy could return as early as Tuesday. Having both ex-Boston University standouts will alleviate some of the pressure of the younger defenders playing significant roles in the interim. But make no mistake, even with a healthier core the Bruins need a defensive upgrade between now and 3 p.m. on Monday.
If Grzelcyk can’t go, Jared Tinordi or Jack Ahcan would likely get the nod to fill the vacancy in Zdeno Chara’s third game back in Boston since leaving for Washington in the off-season.
David Pastrnak is hardly performing at an elite level
Pastrnak picked up where he left off at the beginning of the year following off-season hip surgery. But Pastrnak’s production dried up significantly after notching a hat trick in Lake Tahoe against the Flyers.
In the 21 games since Boston’s 7-3 outdoor win over Philly, Pastrnak has a mere seven goals and nine assists. Granted, he wasn’t going to produce the goal per game rate he set during his first nine games. But his production dip provided a bit of a red flag for a team struggling to consistently find the back of the net.
Things haven’t come easy for Pastrnak both on and off the ice. Pastrnak found himself on the COVID protocol list during the team’s outbreak a few weeks back. Aside from his three-point outing against the Penguins a week ago, Pastrnak struggled to generate quality scoring chances for himself and his teammates. More often than not in this stretch, the 2014 first-round selection forced plays in an attempt to provide a spark rather than have things come to him naturally.
Pastrnak drew a pair of penalties in the third period against the Flyers. But the inconsistencies continued even though he fired four shots on net.
It didn’t matter if he reunited with Bergeron and Brad Marchand or stayed on the second line with Nick Ritchie and David Krejci. A struggling Pastrnak failed to gain any traction for most of Saturday’s matinee in the ‘City of Brotherly Love.’
“He missed some time at the start [of the year]. He’s probably chasing it a little bit. A couple of covid breaks probably doesn’t help those guys that missed time,” Cassidy said of Pastrnak’s slump. “It seems like a lot of pucks have bounced off his stick today. That’s been an issue. So is that a little bit of luck, or is it that you’re a little fatigued that it translates to your hands. We’ve moved him away from Bergy [Bergeron] and Marsh [Marchand] to spark some more offense. I think it has in our lineup, for other people and not necessarily Pasta [Pastrnak].”
Cassidy isn’t wrong. Craig Smith benefitted from his promotion to the top line, tallying 10 points in his last six games on a goal and nine assists. As much as they’d like the secondary scoring to continue its output, the Bruins also need Pastrnak to regain his scoring touch in the long run.
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.
Bruins Daily is a NHL credentialed media organization that is dedicated to being the leading provider of Boston Bruins news, analysis, and commentary, by focusing exclusively on the Boston organization. Bruins Daily provides written content, studio produced video, and on location video, all with a unique voice that fans can relate to. Complete coverage is provided through all of the latest NHL/AHL news, updates, scores, injuries, transactions and fan events.