BOSTON -- Even the most optimistic Bruins fan had to know that the month of November was going to be a struggle.
The B's faced a stretch of 12 games against eight teams that made the playoffs last year, and they were doing so with a raft of damaging injuries and a considerable amount of youth in the lineup. And even the four opponents that didn't make the playoffs last year -- the Golden Knights, Kings and Devils, in particular -- are off to very strong starts this season.
It had trouble written all over, and November has turned into exactly that for the B’s after a 4-1 loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday night at TD Garden. They're now on a three-game losing streak and have lost six of their last eight. In addition, they're a putrid 0-3-3 against Eastern Conference teams they’re competing with for a playoff spot.
“You know, it’s early to [play] the ‘What-If’ game, but . . . you want to win against the teams you’re going to be fighting for down the road for playoff position,” said Bruce Cassidy. “That’s our goal, so I’m not going to hide from that. Any points are good for us, and the division games mean more, no doubt. We let some get away [in Saturday's 4-1 loss], and actually [on Friday night], you know. If we close that out, it’s a .500 weekend. So that’s a tough one.”
The home loss against the Leafs was particularly frustrating as they outshot Toronto by a 39-24 margin but were 0-for-4 on the power play -- which is operating without David Krejci, Ryan Spooner and David Backes -- dropping them to 2-for-21 with the man advantage in the month of November. But that wasn't the sole reason for the loss. Shutdown defender Brandon Carlo was the culprit behind three of the four goals allowed, and Tuukka Rask once again couldn’t come up with a big save in Boston’s biggest time of need.
The way they lost was clearly frustrating for the Bruins, and that was the insult added to the injury of getting swept in a home-and-home series to their rivals in Toronto, which is playing without its own best player in Auston Matthews. The Bruins are trying to put on a brave face and it's true that they’ve been in just about every thus far this season from a competitive standpoint, but it’s clear the weight of all the missing players is beginning to drag them down.
“We’ve done a good job of making sure that we’re in every game so far and we’ve had a chance to win hockey games, and we’ve clawed our way back,” said Torey Krug. “We’ve had some tough starts but we never give up and that’s a good characteristic to have. It would be nice to start flipping the script there and play with the lead and for a whole 60 minutes and lead the game. But it’s not going to look like that when you’re missing a lot of key players. We’ll just have to keep going.”
Of the biggest concern is the picture in the Eastern Conference as the Bruins are sliding down the standings. The Bruins are now 14th out of 16 teams in the East and a full four points out of a playoff spot with the Thanksgiving marker only a couple of weeks away. The only teams below the Bruins in the Eastern Conference standings are the perennially bad Buffalo Sabres and the permanently adrift Florida Panthers.
That should be a clear message that what the Bruins are doing right now isn’t good enough, even with the built-in excuses. Sure, the B’s have some games in hand against most of the other teams, but they aren’t of much value if they lose them. That’s the situation right now as the Bruins ready to embark on a West Coast road trip that could push them deeper into the depths of the standings.
“I’m not nervous," said Rask. "I think you gotta look at the positives. We haven’t played bad hockey. You know, there’s been bad 5-10 minutes, but it hasn’t been work ethic or nothing like that. You know, we’ve been making plays and battling hard out there. I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. You know, we’ve been here before. We just have to dig deeper and win some road games, it’s definitely not going to be an easy road trip.”
The numbers aren’t really debatable at this point. If the Bruins aren’t in a playoff spot by Thanksgiving, history shows they have about a 25 percent chance of making the postseason. If they’re more than five points out of a spot on Turkey Day, they're in deep, deep trouble.
It’s beginning to feel more and more like the “deep, deep trouble” thing might be a reality for the Bruins, and they’re going to need to do some spectacular things in the next couple of weeks to get out of it.