Bruins

Injuries, bad draft finally catching up to struggling Bruins

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Injuries, bad draft finally catching up to struggling Bruins

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.

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“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.

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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.

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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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Bruins-Panthers Review: Boston responds after five-game losing streak

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Bruins-Panthers Review: Boston responds after five-game losing streak

Here’s what we learned in the Bruins' 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on Saturday night.

• The Bruins' response to their losing streak was impressive. Bruce Cassidy called out the second and third lines for not really doing much during the five-game skid, and he had the numbers to back it all up.

That changed against the Panthers as forwards like Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci not only got on the score sheet, but they also were engaged, fighting for pucks and winning battles along the boards. DeBrusk and Krejci each set the other one up for five-on-five goals in the first couple of periods and Danton Heinen had seven shot attempts in 13:32 of ice time while playing a very active, noticeable game.

Certainly the goals and the offense were nice, but it as much about the competitiveness and the urgency as it was about the actual point production. But there’s no coincidence that Krejci got on the scoresheet and the B’s snapped their losing streak. Those two things are very much intertwined to Boston’s success.

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• David Pastrnak isn’t going to break Phil Esposito’s Bruins goal-scoring record for a single season. It was nice while it lasted and it looks like it’s going to be a lay-up for Pastrnak to have 30 goals scored by the time Christmas break rolls around for the NHL, but he still isn’t back to a 70-goal pace even after tallying two more goals in Saturday night’s win over the Panthers.

Pastrnak is still on pace for 68 goals this season and leads the NHL by a wide margin (he’s got a five goal lead over Jack Eichel), but even a slump for a handful of games is enough to make a 70-goal season more pipe dream than possibility. And it would appear that’s already happened for Pastrnak, so Bruins fans will have to settle for daydreaming about a possible 60-goal season when it comes to their young scoring superstar.

The 76-goal record for Espo seems like it’s going to be safe again this year and it’s going to take something ridiculous for anybody in a Bruins uniform to ever get that many again.

• The Bruins won’t have any extended losing streaks that will take them out of the top spot in the Atlantic Division. These past couple of weeks was the perfect example of this with the Bruins losing five games in a row, the longest losing streak of the Bruce Cassidy era coaching the Bruins.

The last four of those defeats were of the regulation variety, so it was most definitely a notable low point for the year. But between Jaroslav Halak’s strong 31-save effort between the pipes and the Bruins' return to defensive basics against the Panthers, there is only so long that the Bruins are going to lose games barring unforeseen crazy injuries to key players like Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo.

Certainly, the Bruins finally paid the piper for some slack in their game over the last several weeks, and they also ran into a number of very good teams in a short proximity with the losses to Colorado, Washington and Tampa Bay all within a week’s time. But the Bruins have the goaltending, they have the defense, they have Pastrnak always on the verge of a two-goal explosion and they have good enough complementary players that they’ll be able to score against lesser defensive teams like Florida even when their top guns are silenced from time to time.

Perhaps the most disheartening part for every other team in the Atlantic Division? The other teams really didn’t make up any discernible ground despite Boston’s extended slump, with Buffalo still a distant nine points behind the Bruins, and every other team still 12 points or more back in the standings.

For that to be the case after a five-game losing streak for the B’s tells you that the division truly is over and wrapped up, and perhaps that played into some of the malaise we saw from the B’s players during the two-week slump.

Plus

*David Krejci finished with a goal, two points and a plus-2 rating in 16:20 of ice time after not lodging a single point in the Bruins' five-game losing streak. He was creative, playing with plenty of energy and really drove the second line to their best game in weeks.

*Jake DeBrusk similarly played with a very high motor and was far more than a one-dimensional winger who not only scored a goal and had two points, but won battles along the boards, blocked a couple of shots and made himself a factor all over the ice.

*Jaroslav Halak made 31 saves for the Bruins and was rock-solid aside from one bad goal allowed to Keith Yandle that made it a 3-2 hockey game in the third period. But Halak stood tall after that with the game on the line and earned the victory while showing once again that the B’s can rely on elite goaltending all year.

Minus

*Jonathan Huberdeau had no shots on net, three giveaways and was on ice for a pair of goals against in 21-plus minute of ice time, and wasn’t able to match the high level of play that Boston’s top-6 forwards brought to the table.

*One hit, no shots on net and a minus-1 in 11:43 of ice time for Noel Acciari, who wasn’t playing with physicality, energy or anything noteworthy against his old Bruins teammates. He also lost 10-of-17 faceoffs.

*For a guy who was scratched for a couple of games, David Backes didn’t play with the kind of energy one might have expected when he was pushed back into the lineup for Brett Ritchie. One shot on net, one hit, 0-for-1 on faceoffs in 9:09 of ice time in a very eventless game for him. 

 

Talking Points: Krejci, DeBrusk answer the bell in Bruins' win over Panthers

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Talking Points: Krejci, DeBrusk answer the bell in Bruins' win over Panthers

Here are my talking points from tonight's 4-2 Bruins win in South Florida . . .

GOLD STAR: David Krejci didn’t have a single point during the five-game losing streak. But on Saturday night he stepped up and, lo and behold, the Bruins took home two points. It was Krejci helped kick-start the transition game for Jake DeBrusk’s goal in the first period, and then scored one of his own in the second on a strike from the top of the faceoff circle. Krejci finished with a goal and two points and a plus-2 rating in 16:20 of ice time. He also had five shot attempts and won 9-of-14 faceoffs in a game where the second line providence plenty of offense and pressure. Bruce Cassidy slipped Charlie Coyle up to second-line right wing with Krejci and DeBrusk at the outset of the game, and it seemed to work well for the Black and Gold.

BLACK EYE: Jonathan Huberdeau is having a very good season for the Panthers, but he wasn’t able to bring out his “A” game for Florida against the Bruins. Huberdeau didn’t get a single shot on net in the 21:25 of ice time that he played. He finished with three giveaways and a minus-1 against the Bruins. He was part of the line set to contain the Krejci line, but instead allowed them to march right up the ice on DeBrusk’s first period scoring play. Huberdeau was also on ice in the third, when Florida coach Joel Quenneville pulled the goalie with more than two minutes to go, only for David Pastrnak to quickly notch an empty-netter that sealed the game. Not a good night for a very good player.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins weathered the storm in the third when the Panthers came hard after them and carved out a couple of goals to cut the lead to 3-2. Considering that the Bruins blew a 4-0 third period lead against the Panthers at home just a month ago, there was certainly some nervous, anxious moments, with the Bruins looking like they’d blow a three-goal lead in the third period this time. But the B’s stiffened after Jaro Halak gave up a soft goal on a Keith Yandle point shot to make it a one-goal game. They didn’t allow Florida to take advantage of any other breakdowns. Instead the B’s hung in there, patiently waiting until the Florida net opened up the winning scoring chance for them.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jake DeBrusk was at the heart of some of the criticism from Bruce Cassidy after the loss in Tampa when the second and third lines weren’t getting much of anything done. DeBrusk was also one of the players that responded in a big way this weekend by scoring the game’s first goal, a pretty nifty dangle through Florida defenders before beating Sergei Bobrovsky in tight close to the net. DeBrusk also fed David Krejci for his second period goal, finishing with five shot attempts and a couple blocked shots in 15:38 of ice time while posting a plus-2 rating. Perhaps just as important, DeBrusk was winning 50/50 battles for the puck and playing a competitive brand of hockey rather than doing fly-bys in a lot of areas while hunting the puck. If DeBrusk played with the same kind of speed, skill and tenacity on more nights, he’d be a difference-maker for the Bruins more often.

BY THE NUMBERS: 28 – The number of goals for David Pastrnak after collecting two scores against the Panthers, and putting himself in a position where he’s easily going to have 30 goals before the Christmas break.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I thought we did a really good job. Every line played well. We moved some guys around, but right up and down the lineup all 12 forwards, 6 [defensemen] and Jaroslav Halak were all really good.” –Bruce Cassidy to NESN when asked his assessment of the win that snapped the longest B’s losing streak (five games) since he took over as head coach.  

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