Bruins

Bruins takeaways: Top-six absences loom large in ugly loss to Vegas

Bruins

The Boston Bruins' five-game point streak ended in emphatic fashion with a brutal 4-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

The Golden Knights are one of the best teams in the league, but the Bruins didn't really give them much of a fight, either. A 3-0 hole in the first period pretty much sealed Boston's fate after 20 minutes.

The loss dropped the Bruins to 14-9-2 with a three-game road trip against the Islanders, Canadiens and Senators coming up. Making matters worse for the Bruins is having Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Craig Smith all in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol.

Here are three takeaways from Bruins-Golden Knights.

1) Where will offense come from?

The Bruins already had scoring depth issues with a full roster, and that problem has been made much worse with leading scorer Brad Marchand, first-line center Patrice Bergeron and top-six right winger Craig Smith unavailable for a while because all of them are in the league's COVID-19 protocol. 

This issue was on full display Tuesday night when a talented Golden Knights forward group overwhelmed the Bruins. Three goals from Vegas in the last seven minutes of the first period put the Bruins in an early hole that was going to be nearly impossible to climb out of with two important forwards unable to play.

Patrice Bergeron, who wasn't put in the COVID protocol until Wednesday morning, scored Boston's only goal Tuesday night. Aside from him, no one did anything of real substance offensively.

 

Where will the Bruins get offense without three important forwards?

Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak, two elite scoring talents, each failed to tally a single shot on net versus the Golden Knights. Five other Bruins forwards registered one or zero shots on net. Pastrnak has gone six consecutive games without scoring a goal. Hall is scoreless in nine straight games. He did make a nice play to set up Bergeron's goal, but the former Hart Trophy winner is paid to score goals and he hasn't produced at a consistent enough level in that regard.

The bottom-six has been inconsistent and unproductive from a scoring perspective all season. Now would be an ideal time for that to change for the B's.

The absences of Bergeron, Marchand and Smith also make it even harder for the Bruins to move Jake DeBrusk despite his recent trade request. DeBrusk played a top-six role Tuesday night and probably will continue in that spot for as long as the Bruins' roster is impacted by COVID. So, unless the B's are getting a similar forward in return for DeBrusk, it doesn't make much sense to trade him when the team is already desperate for goals.

2) A setback for Swayman

The aforementioned scoring depth issues and absences of Bergeron/Marchand/Smith make it even more crucial for the Bruins that they get excellent goaltending over the next two weeks.

They didn't receive anything close to that from Jeremy Swayman against the Golden Knights. The rookie netminder gave up four goals on just 25 shots. 

"He had an off night," Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters after the loss. "The fourth (goal) is one that should never go in. He had some tough breaks." Cassidy also noted "we didn't generate enough for him, either."

Swayman's performance was a serious setback following a recent run of strong results, highlighted by a .961 save percentage and a 1.29 GAA in his three previous starts.

The Bruins didn't defend very well in front of Swayman, giving up seven high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5, but he has to be better for the B's to beat really good teams such as the Golden Knights without a full roster. You need your goaltender to make a couple bail-out saves in key moments, especially early in the game before the score gets out of reach. The Bruins are not built to come from behind and win high-scoring matchups.

3) Lines will be a mess amid COVID-19 absences

With no Marchand or Smith, Taylor Hall is probably going to play with Pastrnak on the top line, which is absolutely the right move. Smith's absence also opens a spot at right wing on the second line. Bergeron being out likely bumps Coyle up to the first line.

Coyle, who typically fills the second-line center spot, played with three different wingers Tuesday night -- Nick Foligno, Jake DeBrusk and Erik Haula. 

 

The combination of DeBrusk-Coyle-Haula was a minus-4 in shot attempts, a minus-3 in shots on net and a minus-4 in scoring chances at 5-on-5. The Foligno-Coyle-Haula combo tallied just two shot attempts, two shots on net, zero scoring chances and was outscored 2-0 during 5-on-5 play, per Natural Stat Trick.

Line combinations are going to be a mess with Bergeron, Marchand and Smith out of the lineup. The second line is going to look much different than it would if the roster was fully healthy. If the second line doesn't produce, it's going to be pretty tough for the Bruins to win games unless Hall and Pastrnak take their performance to a much higher level.