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  • Bruins-Islanders takeaways: What we learned from Boston’s lifeless outing

    Tim Rosenthal March 3, 2024

    For every troubling issue following a string of frequent third-period meltdowns, the Boston Bruins hardly encountered a downright stinker.

    Until Saturday.

    From the opening puck drop against the Islanders, the Bruins looked utterly lost.

    The loose defensive coverage in front of the net? It wasn’t just an issue that popped up in close-out situations. It’s been prevalent all season long.

    Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman masked Boston’s deficiencies against the rush and in high-danger scoring areas. But both halves of the dynamic tandem encountered a pretty significant dropoff since returning from the 

    All-Star break, looking more prone to rebounds and struggling to track pucks through traffic.

    Offensively, the Bruins hardly generated quality looks, nor did they establish much attacking zone time against the trap-happy Islanders.

    Boston showcased little pushback aside from a second-period scrum initiated by Jakub Lauko and Casey Cizikas. Aside from Lauko and Morgan Geekie slamming their sticks in frustration, the Bruins displayed little to no emotion.

    As a result, Patrick Roy’s bunch took advantage of Boston’s no-show.

    Kyle Palmieri, a predominant “Bruins killer,” set the tone with a natural hat trick between the 3:32 and 12:19 marks of the opening frame.

    Anders Lee buried a rebound following an ill-timed mini-collision between Ullmark and Charlie McAvoy 46 seconds into the middle stanza. Brock Nelson capitalized on a Brandon Carlo turnover to extend the Isles lead to 5-0 9:48 later.

    The recently recalled Marc McLaughlin produced Boston’s only tally at 14:30 of the second after burying a feed from McAvoy to complete an odd-man rush.

    “We’ve got to look at some things on why we didn’t start on time and look at little things at how we can get better,” head coach Jim Montgomery told NESN’s Andy Brickley following the B’s ugly 5-1 setback. “Our execution was pretty poor to start the game.”

    Here’s what we learned from Boston’s lifeless outing at UBS Arena.

    The Bruins aren’t building any urgency against teams on the playoff fringe.

    Over the last month, the Bruins provided some hope for a handful of teams sitting on the playoff fringe.

    Saturday’s win pulled the Islanders within five points of the Flyers for third place in the Metropolitan Division. They also sit six points behind the current wild card holders in the Red Wings and Lightning.

    Within that stretch, the Bruins dropped a pair of decisions to the Kraken and Flames and endured another no-show against the Capitals. The odds remain steep for those trio of teams landing a playoff spot, but they aren’t quite considered significant longshots either.

    The common trend: the urgency remains from the teams within the playoff fringe. The Bruins haven’t matched.

    The defensive liabilities and struggles with game management continue to stand out. But of all the troubling trends, the lack of emotion and desperation continues to catch Montgomery’s eye.

    “We talked about having urgency in our game and raising our level,” Montgomery told Brickley after watching his team relinquish three or more goals in 11 straight games. “It’s the month of March, and it’s time to start building our game at a consistent level for 60 minutes to get ready for the playoffs.”

    Aside from their 4-0 win over the Canucks on Feb. 8, the Bruins hardly showcased that consistent 200-foot effort.

    The overtime appearances following third-period meltdowns against the Kings, Kraken and the second matchup against the Canucks, prevented the Bruins from sliding further behind the now Atlantic Division-leading Panthers. On Saturday, they had a chance to sew further doubt into the Isles’ postseason hopes after salvaging a 5-4 win over Vegas Thursday.

    Instead of establishing another potential building block ahead of their three-game-in-four-night stretch against the Maple Leafs (twice) and Oilers, the Bruins are right back where they started. But perhaps a breather from facing the playoff fringe will provide the desperation the B’s need even as the defensive coverage, 60-minute efforts and situational awareness in the final minutes of regulation remain a significant work in progress.

    The top-six also needs some upgrading

    Between Geekie’s hat trick and Mason Lohrei’s game-winner, the Bruins salvaged a 5-4 victory over the Golden Knights behind timely secondary scoring. David Pastrnak’s pair of assists marked the only production from Boston’s top-six Thursday night.

    The secondary scoring may have briefly stalled Boston’s decline since returning from their bye week. But it’s hardly ideal to ask them to carry the heavy lifting.

    Boston’s top-six hardly developed any flow as Montgomery frequently altered his first and second scoring trios. The power play, while showing decent spurts over the past two games, remains stagnant within their setup and zone entries.

    The Bruins notched 35 goals in their last 13 games. Outside of Pastrnak continuing his near point-per-game pace, the declining production from the first and second lines became an underlying concern.

    Brad Marchand and Charlie Coyle hit a snag from their pre All-Star output, combining for 13 points on three goals and ten assists in the last month. A goal and an assist in Jake DeBrusk’s Edmonton homecoming marked his only points over his last 15 games. Pavel Zacha’s scoring consistency from his first year in Boston evaded him upon transitioning back to his natural center position.

    Against the Islanders, Boston’s starting top-six of Pastrnak, Coyle, Marchand, DeBrusk, Zacha and James van Riemsdyk combined for just seven shots on net. Danton Heinen, who jumped into second-line duty with Zacha and Pastrnak before the former’s exit to a lower-body injury, added another pair of shots on goal.

    Montgomery didn’t provide any further update on Zacha after the Bruins confirmed his lower-body ailment. According to Mark Divver, Johnny Beecher, Georgii Merkulov, Jayson Megna and Patrick Brown sit atop the list of potential promotions from Providence.

    Morgan Geekie or Jesper Boqvist are likely candidates for spot top-six duty if Zacha remains out.

    A top-four defenseman sits atop the pressing needs at the trade deadline. But, as the last few weeks also proved, the Bruins could also use an upgrade down the middle on the top six.

    A potential long-term injury to Zacha may complicate Don Sweeney’s approach. The limited cap space, draft capital, lack of high-end prospects and the potential trade chips outside of Linus Ullmark and Jake DeBrusk will only make Sweeney’s task that much more difficult.

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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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