Just when their forecast cleared up, the Boston Bruins encountered another rough stretch over the last 48 hours.
As Bruce Cassidy returned behind the bench, the Bruins saw a pair of top-six wingers in Brad Marchand and Craig Smith enter COVID-19 protocol a mere three days removed from their 4-2 victory over the Calgary Flames to conclude their three-game swing through Western Canada. Amid a plethora of players entering protocol league-wide — including several in Calgary –, the shorthanded Bruins welcomed the Vegas Golden Knights to TD Garden Tuesday night.
The Bruins looked the part against a perennial Cup contending Vegas squad from the get-go. Cassidy’s crew fell behind 3-0 after 20 minutes and never recovered.
The Golden Knights received a couple of bounces on Shea Theodore’s opening blast — deflecting off Derek Forbort’s back — and a buzzer-beating marker from Jonathan Marchessault during the first 20. They also saw a red-hot Max Pacioretty add a pair of tallies to help the Golden Knights establish a comfortable 4-0 cushion.
The Bruins chased from the get-go. The frequent turnovers in the neutral zone prevented them from establishing any rhythm. The mistakes and missed chances piled up to the result of boo birds and a 4-1 setback.
Here’s what we learned after the Bruins laid an egg against Vegas.
Boston’s thin depth was exposed without Marchand and Smith
The Bruins somehow took points in two of their three games when Marchand served his suspension a couple of weeks back. They received some decent secondary scoring, solid goaltending and a decent effort from Taylor Hall filling in for Marchand on the top line with Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.
Unlike that three-game stretch against the Red Wings, Predators and Lightning, the Bruins only had four of their top six options available Tuesday, with Smith joining Marchand in COVID-protocol. There within lies the problem.
A disgruntled Jake DeBrusk found himself on the second line with Charlie Coyle and Nick Foligno to start. He eventually swapped places with Erik Haula toward the end of the first period. Neither party provided anything worthwhile during their stints in a top-six role.
Hall provided a decent moment with a hard-working assist on Patrice Bergeron’s 10th goal of the season a mere 21 ticks into the final stanza. It was Boston’s lone highlight on a night full of lowlights.
“We had trouble sustaining momentum,” Hall said. “It just seemed like we were a little bit late to pucks, a little bit late to battles, a little bit late to rebounds for most of the game. And from there, we chased the game for most of the night.”
In the past, the Bruins prided themselves on ‘next man up.’ The thinning scoring and defensive depth make that mantra nearly impossible to pull off this season. Tuesday proved that they can’t afford to lose Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak or Charlie McAvoy for a significant amount of time.
Jeremy Swayman encountered another rough night
A pair of solid starts from Linus Ullmark to close out the Western Canada trip likely boded well toward a Tuesday start. But Ullmark found himself in an uncertain spot with a handful of his teammates following an issue with COVID testing at Monday’s practice.
Thus, the Bruins tabbed Swayman to make his first start in six days. And he fared no better than the rest of his team Tuesday night.
Swayman encountered a tough bounce on Theodore’s opening marker. He was beaten clean on Pacciroetty’s breakaway tally — his first of the night — following a stellar feed from Chandler Stephenson.
But Swayman battled the puck more often than not, becoming susceptible to rebounds. And he even couldn’t escape the usual flub, failing to cover Marchasseault’s last-second tip in the opening stanza Pacioretty’s point shot early in the second period.
Swayman’s teammates didn’t help, failing to clear pucks out of danger while struggling to support him offensively. All this accumulated into another rough outing for the former UMaine netminder.
“He had an off night,” Cassidy said of Swayman. “The fourth goal [from Paccioretty] was one that should never go in. He had some tough breaks. Pacioretty is a good goal scorer. He got behind our D on a 2-on-2 and we just missed an assignment. Unfortunate luck for him on a goal he typically stops, but at the end of the day, we didn’t generate enough for him.”
“Everything is a learning experience, and some of the best things you can learn from are your failures,” Swayman added. “So I thought that a lot of things I could learn from tonight is maybe to put myself in a better position for a tip save. You know, it just happens. It doesn’t matter if the puck is going a few feet wide; it can still go into the net. So, positioning-wise, it’s something I could work on.”
Swayman and the Bruins couldn’t put forth a worthwhile effort as they face further uncertainty. But this particular issue also affects the rest of the league.
COVID situation has Bruins walking on proverbial eggshells
Even with most of its players fully vaccinated, the NHL likely envisioned they’d encounter some tough times with COVID. The Omicron variant outbreak, however, probably surpassed their expectations.
Marchand and Smith became two of a handful among their peers who entered protocol on Tuesday. The league postponed the Flames-Predators and Hurricanes-Wild tilts during their hectic Tuesday.
The Bruins got their game in against the Golden Knights. But the uncertainty carries over into Thursday, with the Islanders also encountering a COVID case of their own with their prolific centerman Mat Barzal.
The players and coaches have all followed the league’s protocols. Yet, even with booster shots in place, the recent uptick in cases amid a new variant is the most challenging obstacle since the vaccine distribution to the masses.
“We all took the shots, and we’re all in the situations again,” Hall said. “It is what it is. It’s disheartening. We’re on the road and we’re trying to do the right things away from hockey…that’s the world we live in right now. Hopefully, this spring is the right time we have to deal with this stuff.”
The uncertainty surrounding COVID won’t end in the interim. In fact, the NHL and NHLPA have reportedly discussed additional protocols to their existing manual regardless of vaccination status.
Even with the best protection methods, statuses can change at any minute. The living in the moment philosophy Swayman preaches becomes that much more vital for everyone. And just getting through a 60-minute game at this rate provides a significant accomplishment in and of itself.
“It’s a perfect example of not knowing what’s going to happen,” Swayman added. “I thought we’ve learned a lot as a team and as individuals. Things can change in an instant, right? One day you’re ready to go and you’re perfectly fine, and the next, you pop a positive test. You have no idea when that’s going to happen. The best thing we can do is follow the guidelines and making sure we do the right thing and give ourselves a chance to play and be healthy.”
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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