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  • The Bruins’ struggles against top teams continue

    Tim Rosenthal November 26, 2021

    The Boston Bruins only have one marquee win on their resume thus far: a 3-2 shootout triumph over the league-leading Florida Panthers on Oct. 30.

    Bruce Cassidy’s squad took care of business against the team’s beneath them in the standings. Wednesday’s dominant 5-1 victory in Buffalo improved the B’s to 9-1-0 against teams outside of the pre-Thanksgiving playoff picture.

    The Bruins didn’t face a rebuilding Sabres squad in their Black Friday matinee. Nor did they go up against a potential fringe playoff squad. Instead, they hosted an improved New York Rangers bunch that entered the day after Thanksgiving a mere two points behind the Capitals and Hurricanes atop the Metropolitan Division.

    In a game that had a little bit of everything — from a pair of Jeremy Swayman’s diving stops, to Chris Kreider attempting ‘the Michigan’ and Aretemi Panarin throwing his glove at Brad Marchand –, the Bruins shot themselves in the foot during the final 20 minutes.

    Boston’s dominating effort in the opening stanza went for naught after Ryan Strome countered Craig Smith’s second of the year with a back-breaking tally with 5.8 ticks remaining.

    The defensive breakdowns continued even after the Bruins regained a 2-1 edge on Patrice Bergeron’s eighth of the season. The Brandon Carlo-Derek Forbort pair found themselves on the ice for Dryden Hunt’s middle stanza equalizer off a juicy Jeremy Swayman rebound on the heels of a Forbort turnover; and Panarin’s third-period go-ahead tally, beating Carlo in the slot to tip home his fifth of the year.

    “We didn’t play winning hockey for whatever reason,” Cassidy said following Friday’s loss to New York. “We kind of pissed it away, to be honest with you.”

    Alexis Lafreniere’s fifth of the season and Jacob Trouba’s empty-netter capped off New York’s 5-2 win. Here’s what we learned.

    Losses continue to pile up against marquee teams

    Indeed, the Bruins will drop their share of decisions against some of the top teams in the league. They’ll even sustain some setbacks against middling or bottom-feeding squads during an 82-game slate.

    At some point, they’ll need to string together some wins against those teams above them in the standings. Friday’s loss dropped the Bruins to 1-6 against a team currently holding a divisional top-three spot.

    They encountered some tough breaks in those losses. But the Oilers, Flames, Rangers, Hurricanes, Maple Leafs and Panthers all exposed Boston’s defensive flaws during their early-season matchups.

    Aside from their third-period come-from-behind win against the Panthers on Halloween eve, the Bruins haven’t risen to the occasion during crunch time. This month alone, they relinquished a third period lead to Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Oilers and let another win slip away following Friday’s third-period collapse.

    “As a group, we have to do a better job of that,” Cassidy said of rectifying the meltdowns in the final 20. “You have to understand where you are in a game. There are going to be goals that are scored because guys are stronger than you or faster than you and they make plays. But you have to play winning hockey at the right time. That’s where we get away from our identity when we have those breakdowns that to me are pretty straightforward.”

    The Bruins witnessed some of their old reliables from previous years continue their careers elsewhere. Surely, Cassidy would’ve turned to battle-tested vets like Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Torey Krug and Tuukka Rask in pivotal third-period moments.

    The transition inside Boston’s locker room over the last two seasons provided plenty of growing pains. This early-season rut against some of the top early-season squads is living proof.

    These aren’t the same Bruins teams from years past

    Since the 2019-20 off-season, the Bruins had to fill significant voids on the second line, power play and the top left-shot defensive pairing spot next to Charlie McAvoy.

    The slow developments in the prospect ranks coupled with the Islanders exposing Boston’s bottom-six and defensive depth in last year’s second-round exit forced Don Sweeney’s hand this past summer. The seventh-year general manager attempted to address the concerns after adding Erik Haula, Nick Foligno, Tomas Nosek, Derek Forbort and Linus Ullmark in late July. Sweeney’s off-season spree provided mixed results — at best — through the first 17 games.

    As the newer players, including Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar — acquired from the Sabres at last year’s trade deadline — find their comfort level within the system, the Bruins find themselves over-relying on their top weapons like Bergeron, Marchand, David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy to get them out of this rut. Yet, the frequent brain farts against some of the upper-echelon teams headline the list of early-season concerns.

    Even with a bit of early-season turmoil, Marchand remains optimistic about Boston’s chances once the newer members find their footing — as long as they limit the self-inflicted wounds.

    “I’m not concerned at all. It’s early in the year, and we have a lot of new faces in our group,” Marchand said. “If we stop shooting ourselves in the foot, we’re going to be a heck of a hockey team.”

    The Bruins witnessed their share of entertaining tilts as well. But they’re searching for means to entertain their fans to victory over marquee opponents.

    Failed lacrosse-style attempt and Panarin-Marchand exchange cap off matinee

    The Bruins exited TD Garden with a sour taste in their mouths. Yet, things could’ve been even more embarrassing.

    As Swayman did everything he could to keep his team afloat with a couple of diving stops, the former University of Maine netminder finally fell victim to an assertive Rangers attack. The rookie netminder nearly fell victim to a highlight-reel goal by Kreider as he hit the crossbar in his attempt to channel his inner Mike Legg.

    “I got a piece of that, yeah,” Swayman said of Kreider’s attempt. “Guys have tried it [on me before]. But it’s one of those plays where anything goes.”

    Panarin put the Rangers ahead for good shortly after Kreider’s near dazzling marker. In the closing seconds, the talented Russian playmaker took exception to a few of Marchand’s chirps from the bench. The two wingers received 10-minute misconducts with Panarin’s off-hand glove throw to Marchand capping off the unique exchange.

    “We were just asking about Thanksgiving dinner,” Marchand said to a round of laughter from the Boston media. “He didn’t like what I ate.”

    The Panarin-Marchand exchange will never get old. But the Bruins’ struggles against the top teams aren’t a laughing matter to their passionate fanbase.

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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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