After stringing together a pair of solid victories over the Pittsburgh Penguins and the St. Louis Blues, the Boston Bruins struggled to produce much of anything on either side of the puck in their rematch with the Penguins.
The Bruins could not solve Casey DeSmith despite throwing 52 shots at the Pittsburgh netminder. The offensive struggles and the multiple defensive miscues ultimately doomed Bruce Cassidy’s club in their 4-0 loss on Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena.
“We need to finish better,” Cassidy said to reporters afterward. “We got away with it the last few games and played good defensively.”
Jake Guentzel broke through the Bruins’ defense during a partial change to put the Penguins up 1-0 at 12:11 of the first period.
The Bruins sustained a healthy offensive rhythm coming out of the locker room for the second, outshooting the Penguins 9-0 more than halfway through the middle 20. But they failed to get a shot past DeSmith, and they would soon fall behind even further.
Jason Zucker doubled Pittsburgh’s lead on their first shot of the second period, as another Penguin got in behind the Boston back end.
“That was a game-changing moment at each end,” Cassidy added.
Guentzel potted his second of the game off of a nice setup from Kris Letang later on in the second period to give Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead. The Pens’ top-winger later notched his second career 40-goal season with his hat trick tally on an empty netter late in the third.
Here’s what we learned from Boston’s disappointing outing in the Steel City.
Defensive miscues prove costly
The Penguins received higher-end scoring chances than the Bruins despite the 52-32 shot on goal disparity. While Boston failed to light the lamp, the opportunistic Pens took advantage of Boston’s defensive breakdowns.
The night of miscues began in the first after Mike Matheson quickly head manned the puck up to Rickard Rakell as the Bruins underwent a partial line change. That change gave Sidney Crosby just enough time and space to send Guentzel in behind the Bruins’ defense. Guentzel beat Swayman five-hole, putting Pittsburgh ahead 1-0.
“They stretched the zone on us a couple of times,” Cassidy said. “We’re in between on a d-line change and all of a sudden Guentzel is in behind us.”
In the second period, John Marino found Jason Zucker up ice with Brandon Carlo just slightly out of position. Zucker needed just a step past Carlo to get in on Swayman and put the Penguins up 2-0.
“We have a breakdown – a forward doesn’t lock the lane or is a step behind,” Cassidy said. “That’s the save you need in this type of game.”
Carlo encountered another second-period breakdown after he failed to clear the puck out of the defensive zone and then overcommitted on playing Kris Letang, who promptly set Guentzel up with a beautiful feed to give the Pens a 3-0 cushion.
“Those are grade-A chances, and I don’t believe we got any of those,” Cassidy added.
Scoring drought frustrating Brad Marchand
Marchand extended his goal drought to nine straight games on Thursday. The top-line left winger only recorded a pair of assists during the stretch to go along with a minus-4 rating.
“I haven’t been overly happy with my game the last little while,” Marchand told the media before Thursday’s contest. “Typically when that happens, the only thing to do is work through it.”
Marchand generated a handful of quality scoring chances against the Penguins, firing eight shots on net in 19:38 of ice time. But as the game progressed, Marchand became noticeably frustrated with his inability to find the back of the net.
The veteran is doing all he can to snap out of his funk. On Wednesday, Marchand elected to participate in an optional practice to try and adjust to becoming a primary shooter in David Pastrnak’s absence on Boston’s struggling power-play.
“Our [power play] obviously has not been very good lately,” Marchand said. “With [Pastrnak], he’s such a threat all the time. Teams focus on him and open up other areas, where now they’re kind of sitting on [Patrice Bergeron] a lot more and collapsing in front.”
Speaking of Pastrnak…
Help is on the way
The Bruins spent the last couple of weeks without David Pastrnak (undisclosed injury) and Hampus Lindholm (lower body). They’ve also gone the last three games without goalie Linus Ullmark after he left during the first period of Boston’s 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators last Thursday.
But the shorthanded Bruins may be back to full strength soon.
“Linus is doing much better. I anticipate he will play one of the games this weekend,” Cassidy said. “[Pastrnak and Lindholm] are feeling better and possibly both could be in the lineup by Sunday. So if not, Tuesday we think.”
The Bruins host the New York Rangers on Saturday before traveling to Montreal for a matchup with the Canadiens on Sunday. They’ll return home for a two-game homestand against the Florida Panthers (Tuesday) and Buffalo Sabres (Thursday) before closing out the regular season in Toronto against the Maple Leafs a week from Friday.
With a short window to work with, the Bruins will have to pivot quickly to re-integrate Pastrnak, Lindholm and Ullmark into their lineup.
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