NEW YORK – After a month of the hockey season, positive and negative patterns begin to emerge for NHL teams.
The Bruins have certainly shown an ability to scratch and claw their way back into games and a willingness to keep working even when things aren’t initially going their way. But the other side of that hockey coin is that the Bruins have also shown a self-destructive penchant for sluggish starts. That has been particularly noticeable on the road this season.
- Talking Points: Local boy Vesey makes good against the B's
- Bruins fall behind early, lose to Rangers, 4-2
It was there again Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden as the Bruins allowed three goals in the first period and were outshot 16-7 by the Rangers en route to a 4-2 loss to the Blueshirts. Essentially, the first few shifts of the game were perfectly fine for the Black and Gold, but one bad shift for the Tim Schaller/Sean Kuraly/Danton Heinen line led to the Rangers scoring three goals in less than a six-minute span.
“We’re well aware that [starts on the road] is hurting us right now. It would be a lot easier on ourselves if we start at the drop of the puck and establish what we're doing for the last 40 minutes of games,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We need to be better and everybody knows that. We’re all professionals and we know it’s not good enough to play for 40 minutes.”
The first goal came on a shift where the five Bruins flubbed a number of chances to clear the puck out of the D-zone before Pavel Buchnevich sped past Zdeno Chara en route to the goal. Then the Bruins simply collapsed in front of their own net and Jimmy Vesey scored a pair of second-effort goals in and around the net as both defenders and Tuukka Rask looked a little frazzled.
The Bruins eventually regained their footing and pushed it to a one-goal game in the third, but again they couldn’t fully climb out of a hole they’d made for themselves.
“The most frustrating thing is the start again. We put ourselves in a bad spot,” said Bruce Cassidy. “In this league, it’s tough to come back. We’ve had a couple of moral victories or whatever you want to call them to show that we have some character, and we’re in the fight to the last whistle. But we’ve got to learn quickly here not to keep putting ourselves behind the 8-ball because teams are too good.”
The Bruins have now been outscored 7-3 in the first period of road games this season. They dropped to 1-3-1 on the road while showing their youthfulness in being reactive rather than proactive away from home.
“I think because we’ve got an inexperienced group that does kind of wait around to see what’s going to [happen]. They’re not used to being initiators at the NHL level. They might be at the American League or wherever they previously played, so they wait around a little bit,” said Cassidy. “Now all of a sudden [when we’re losing] there’s a little more desperation, and that’s great.
“We want to see that urgency level, but we want to see that at 7 p.m., or 8 p.m., or whenever the puck drops. Not when we’re behind by a couple. That’s the message we’re trying to get through, trust me, and hopefully, it sinks in on Friday because we’ve got another tough one.”
One thing the Bruins can do - as they start to get healthy - is mix in a few more players who might be able to help get the team focused earlier in road games. The energy and heavy hitting of a guy like Noel Acciari could help in waking up the team from their first-period doldrums. He looks like he’ll be an option for the Bruins as soon as this weekend in the home-and-home against the Maple Leafs.
Some of it also simply about the B’s missing so many of their key players to injuries and not having the offensive wherewithal to score early rather than falling behind as they’ve consistently done away from home this season. Nobody is going to blindly accept that as an excuse when the undermanned Bruins can still play good hockey for 40 minutes and bad hockey for the other 20 minutes, as they did on Wednesday night against the Rangers.
At this point on the road, Cassidy and Co. will probably settle for a good, strong 20 minutes right out of the starting gate in Toronto and then see where that takes them for the rest of the night. The opposite clearly isn’t working for the Black and Gold right now.