Bruins winning games despite 'some passengers', truly sluggish starts

Bruins winning games despite 'some passengers', truly sluggish starts

BOSTON – The Bruins are drifting into a dangerous pattern over the last few weeks.

It’s now two straight games where the Bruins have sleepwalked through the first 30-40 minutes of the game before eventually finding their game in the third period on the way to a victory over a beatable opponent. On Wednesday night, it was the lowly Ottawa Senators. And on Friday afternoon, it was a 3-2 overtime victory against an improving but still not totally ready for prime time New York Rangers squad at TD Garden.

Some of it is normal fatigue during the regular season as the Bruins were playing their third game in four days with a Friday matinee making for quick turnaround time, and some of it might be the Bruins missing their best two-way forward in Patrice Bergeron out with a lower-body injury.

But some of it was simply about the presence of “passengers” in the Bruins attack, which is something that head coach Bruce Cassidy acted on during the comeback win on Black Friday against the Blueshirts. It was something Cassidy alluded to before the game even started when he pointed toward younger players like Anders Bjork, Jack Studnicka and others that could provide the Bruins with some much-needed energy.

“I know our team is always going to eventually find their game. I want them to find it sooner, and eventually we did get to our game and play our type of game. I think lately, we’ve found ways to win because we’ve got good players; we’re a good team, but we’re not playing our…we’re trying to get to that 60-minute game like everyone else in the National Hockey League. As a coach, that’s what you’re always looking at a little bit, the result but also the process for us,” said Cassidy. “You always want to win, but I think for us, we’re trying to build that process to get where we want to go, and that’s equally important.

"[It’s] great to get the two points. I thought we certainly pushed in the third and overtime to do that. I’d just like to see it happen a little sooner.”

As Cassidy alluded, the B's elite goaltending and the epic offensive tear that David Pastrnak is on will erase a lot of blemishes, and they helped do that again on Friday against the Blueshirts. 

The lineup juggling actually led to the B’s first goal in the second period as Jake DeBrusk, Sean Kuraly and 20-year-old Jack Studnicka were lumped together on a line with the usual center Studnicka playing the wing for the Black and Gold.

It was a time in the game where Danton Heinen was on the bench after a lazy second period turnover off the side boards that led to New York’s second goal, and was an easily diagnosable part of the “passenger” problem.

“I just didn’t think we had it as a group. There were some guys…we had some passengers, not a trait of our team, but [on Friday afternoon] we did. So, we mixed it [up]. I thought Jack [Studnicka] could give us some energy. He wants to prove he can play at this level, so you’re going to get the effort no matter what; we’ll fix the mistakes along the way. The effort was there on that goal,” said Cassidy. “So he ended up on the wing. I know he’s played there a little bit. It’s not what we want to do going into it. We will do it if we have to.

“Don’t expect him to start on the wing his next game. We want him to work the middle of the ice, but we’ll always have a conversation what’s best for the group. We want him to be a center and learn to play center first.”

The Cassidy mixing and matching led to Studnicka beating a delayed icing call to keep a play alive toward the end of the second period, and Sean Kuraly eventually redirecting a long Jake DeBrusk wrist shot past Henrik Lundqvist for signs of offensive life from the Bruins.

It was that goal that gave the Bruins momentum headed into the second intermission and led to a much better third period and explosive overtime for the two points.

It all started, however, with Cassidy diagnosing a problem that’s been present for the Bruins for the last few games, and may continue to require adjustments on the fly from the head coach before the team rights its game completely.

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Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the B's 4-1 loss to the Avalanche

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Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the B's 4-1 loss to the Avalanche

Here are my talking points from the Bruins’ first regulation loss at home in 2019-20:

GOLD STAR: It isn’t going to happen very often, but Ian Cole turned out to be the single biggest contributor in a team-wide win for the Avalanche. It was Cole that smoked a slap shot past the glove hand of Jaroslav Halak to give Colorado a 2-1 lead in the second period, and he made certain his first goal of the season was an important one. Cole also blocked five shots in 17:17 of ice time and was part of a gritty, determined effort to protect the lead once the Avs got up 3-1 in the third. He mixed in a couple of hits and a couple of takeaways as well, and made some big plays in what was pretty much a perfect game overall for Colorado.

HIGHLIGHTS: Bruins take first home regulation loss vs. Avs, 4-1

BLACK EYE: There’s more than a few, but how about Danton Heinen just not making the plays that he needs to make when he’s in the lineup? Forget about the zero shots on net in 16:45 of ice time, with a number of them either getting blocked or missing the net. That’s nothing new when it comes to a player that’s barely averaging a shot on net for game. But he also turned the puck over behind the Boston net in a sequence that led to Cole’s game-winner as the Bruins began to run around in the defensive zone. It was that particular play that led Bruce Cassidy to lament that the attention to details was lacking for his players at this point in the season. If Heinen isn’t making the little plays, is a minus player and isn’t bringing any offense, then he isn’t worth having in the lineup.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins went into the first intermission tied at 1-1 after only putting four shots on net, and should have had the kind of wakeup call that they needed to turn the intensity up a little bit. Instead they went through a second period where they again only put up four shots on net while falling behind by two goals headed into the final 20 minutes. The Avalanche only leveled five shots on net as well, but they scored on a pair of them and pounced all over Boston’s mistakes while playing a surprisingly disciplined, two-way game despite their explosive offensive players. This time around, the Bruins didn’t have any way to come back in the third period against a quality Colorado team that wasn’t going to fold for them.

#HaggBag: Any worries about the B's? Let's hear 'em

HONORABLE MENTION: One of the few players to put up an honest-to-goodness effort in the loss was the hard-hitting fourth liner, Chris Wagner. It was Wagner that redirected a John Moore point shot in the first period for his third goal of the season that gave the Bruins an initial lead in the game. Wagner led the Bruins with five registered hits, scored on the only shot on net he had in the game and won 5-of-10 face-offs that he took in his 12:39 of ice time. The shame was that there weren’t enough other players that rose to the level of urgency and compete that Wagner was showing throughout the game for the Black and Gold.

BY THE NUMBERS: 17 – The home point streak (12-0-5) is over for the Bruins as the Avs handed them their first regulation loss on home ice this year, and their first since Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues almost six months ago.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “There’s just a lot of details that are working us against us now. We’ve just got to wake up and start playing to our abilities in those situations. And live with the result. It doesn’t mean we’re going to win, but I think we’re leaving plays on the table because our lack of urgency or understanding that teams are coming after us.” –Bruce Cassidy, lamenting the lack of urgency in the B’s game as they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Avalanche.

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Highlights: Bruins can't seize momentum, fall 4-1 to Avs

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Highlights: Bruins can't seize momentum, fall 4-1 to Avs

FINAL SCORE: Avalanche 4, Bruins 1

IN BRIEF: The Bruins tied it early with a Chris Wagner tip-in off a John Moore shot from the point, but from there the Avs dictated play to hand Boston its first home loss in regulation at TD Garden in the 2019-20 season. It was a Pyrrhic victory for the Avs, though, who lost Calder Trophy favorite and former UMass star Cale Makar to injury.


BRUINS RECORD: 20-4-6 (46 points, 1st in Atlantic Division)





At Ottawa, Monday, 7:30 p.m., NESN

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