The Boston Bruins hit a new low Thursday night at TD Garden in a 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The B's fell behind 2-0 in the second period, then cut the deficit to 2-1 at 11:14 of the third period before allowing two more goals.
The stats paint an ugly picture.
The Bruins were again awful at 5-on-5. The Penguins tallied a 3-1 advantage in 5-on-5 goals, a plus-15 edge in 5-on-5 scoring chances and a plus-13 lead in high-danger shot attempts at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick.
The lack of effort goes well beyond the box score, though. The eye test also wasn't pretty.
Poor puck management has become a troubling theme for the Bruins. Giveaways in vulnerable parts of the ice are happening too often.
“We’ve had trouble executing for a while now. It’s one of the reasons our offensive numbers are down,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said in his postgame presser. “We’re not clean. We don’t take care of the puck well enough.”
Just look at Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson's goal Thursday night.
Charlie Coyle loses the puck in the attacking zone, it eventually finds Matheson and he goes right around Jeremy Lauzon and scores a beautiful goal. Lauzon had a good 15 to 20 feet of room on Matheson at the beginning of the rush and still easily got beat to the net. Matheson is a defensive defenseman, not some speedy winger with high-end skill.
The transition defense here is just awful.
It's not just Lauzon and the young players struggling.
Boston's best players also aren't playing at a high level, and Cassidy called them out again after this defeat to the Penguins.
“A lot of it was our top guys tonight,” Cassidy admitted. “Yeah, our younger guys are learning the ropes here a little bit. But you’ve got to do a better job taking care of the puck. It's that simple."
David Pastrnak had an excellent start to the season. He has scored zero goals with one assist over the last five games. Patrice Bergeron has not scored in his last nine games. Marchand has scored in back-to-back games, but before that he had an eight-game goalless drought. Charlie Coyle hasn't found the back of the net in his last 13 games. David Krejci's playmaking over the last few weeks has been very good, but his one goal on the entire season is disappointing.
The Bruins are not in danger of falling out of the playoff race in the East Division -- not yet, at least.
Boston has a 3-point lead over the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers for the fourth and final playoff spot in the division. The B's also have two games in hand on the Flyers and three on the Rangers. Boston is nine points behind the Penguins, Washington Capitals and New York Islanders -- all of whom are tied at 50 points. The B's have at least three games in hand on each of those teams. The Bruins' pursuit of a playoff spot is aided greatly by having six more games against the historically bad Buffalo Sabres remaining on the schedule.
The Bruins are a playoff team, but they aren't much more than that right now. The April 12 trade deadline is looming and a top-four defenseman should be atop general manager Don Sweeney's wishlist. A middle-six forward also is a pressing need.
The problem for the B's is they have the weakest prospect pool in the league and, for several reasons, can't really afford to give up another first-round pick. Their trade assets are among the weakest of the contending teams.
But it won't matter what the Bruins do at the trade deadline if they continue to play with poor puck management, a lack of effort and the top guys not being consistent offensively. Those issues must be resolved ASAP for the Bruins' season to turn around.