SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Bruins gritted their teeth and valiantly went 4-1-2 in their first seven games after an already injury-plagued hockey team lost both Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron in successive games on the road.
But they’ve now lost two games in a row to the weak sisters of the Atlantic Division in Detroit and Florida, and had one of their worst losses of the season in Tuesday night’s 5-0 shutout loss to the Panthers at BB&T Center. Certainly even in their weakened state they are better than they showed in a careless game against Florida with some of their best players, Torey Krug and Jake DeBrusk among them, simply not playing well at all.
Aleksander Barkov, Mike Hoffman and Jonathan Huberdeau were all dominant forces and the Bruins simply didn’t have the defensive shutdown power to stop any of them while missing their two best defenders from the lineup. That effectively blew up Boston’s formula for winning games – tight defense, perfect goaltending and a dominant power play -- with a bare bones lineup and turned them into a hockey club that looked like they were missing their best players.
It was a fact not lost on the Bruins after the listless defeat and the hard truth is there may be another one or two of these rock-bottom losses until No. 33 and No. 37 finally return to the lineup.
“I think there are a lot of things to be learned here. I think a lot of habits are starting to catch up to us,” said Krug. “Our goalies having been doing a great job of keeping us in games. Even though on paper it looks like defensively we’re doing a good job, there are a lot of slow opportunities for the other teams and our goalies have stood up tall. Our power play is the only thing that’s scoring goals right now. We need to keep working, hopefully pop a few and get our confidence back.
“But we’re so reliant on our power play that it’s got to be good in order for us to win games, and tonight it was not. It’s up to the skill players and a lot of leaders in the room to be better. We’ve got to fix that.”
Some of Tuesday night’s issues will be addressed in practice, and there’s little doubt that Bruce Cassidy and the B’s coaching staff will be able to tweak the power play to get it operating again at a higher level.
“I know there’s a lot of pride and character in the room. Some of it is sitting home in Boston unfortunately,” said Cassidy. “But the guys that are in here have to realize that if our best players aren’t our best players, especially now, then we’re going to have a tough time.”
There is also perhaps a deeper organizational issue at work as injuries rip a chunk out of the Black and Gold.
AHL call-ups like Colby Cave, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon have done the best that they can, but there’s a limit to how good they can be while forced into regular NHL duty for the first time in their careers. None of them were first-round picks and only JFK is really looked at as any kind of dynamic offensive prospect while operating more as a smooth, smart two-way player than an offensive performer.
With the Bruins scrapping for 5-on-5 goals and clearly without firepower to come back when it became a three-goal lead for the Panthers, it’s beginning to become apparent that the B’s 2015 NHL Draft is really starting to hurt them. With three-plus years of development, this should have been the time when 13th overall pick Jakub Zboril and 15th overall pick Zach Senyshyn stepped up and injected some talent and explosiveness to a lineup that’s bereft of both right now.
The man taken in between both of them, Jake DeBrusk at 14th overall, is second on the Bruins with 10 goals this season and has turned into a top-6 winger and one of the best forwards on the roster. He has proven to be a good pick by the Bruins and will probably be in Black and Gold for the next decade given his skills and his mature off-the-ice approach.
But Zboril has managed just a couple of NHL games when the B’s were really desperate for help last month, and was never entrusted with more than 11 minutes of ice time. Senyshyn has never come close to cracking the NHL roster despite the clear need for a goal-scoring winger. This season the 21-year-old has five goals in 22 games for the P-Bruins with a minus-9 rating, and really doesn’t look all that much better than a “meh” AHL rookies season where he totaled 12 goals and 26 points in 66 games.
Both Zboril and Senyshyn are still young, but it says a lot about what the Bruins think of them that they’re not up in the NHL right now with an injury-ravaged roster.
With so many other players from that 2015 first round taken after them already contributing highly at the NHL– Brock Boeser, Thomas Chabot, Mat Barzal, Travis Konecny and Sebastian Aho to name a few – it’s fair to wonder how much better Boston’s situation would be if they’d done even a little better at executing that first round of the draft.
It’s beyond fair to ask how much better off the Bruins would be offensively if the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Senyshyn was actually the Chris Kreider-type they projected him to be when they selected him. Instead he’s one of only two first round picks from that 2015 NHL draft that has yet to even suit up at the NHL level, and it doesn’t look like he’s close right now.
The same goes for Zboril given that he was sandwiched in between D-men selections of Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov, Zach Werenski and Chabot, and would be a huge benefit to the B’s if he were as good as any of them.
The reality is it’s only a two-game losing streak and the B’s have every excuse to lose a few games given the substantial players they’re missing from the lineup. They’ll also bounce back because they’re talented, well-coached and before too long guys like Chara and Bergeron will be back and ready to play.
But it’s borderline painful to think how much better off the Bruins would be if things had gone a little differently for them three-plus years ago during the draft at the very-same BB&T Center arena where they got their clocks cleaned on Tuesday night.
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