Bruins

Losing streak revealing a Bruins flaw that could be fatal if not addressed

Losing streak revealing a Bruins flaw that could be fatal if not addressed

TAMPA  – The problems are many when a team has lost five in a row as the Bruins have.

It wasn’t a desperate Bruins dressing room in the aftermath of their 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night at Amalie Arena, nor should it be. The B’s still hold an eight-point lead in the Atlantic Division despite being in the throes of their first losing streak of the season.

As Tuukka Rask said succinctly afterward, “We hate to lose, but we’re not going to go 80-3 or whatever it was that [Brett] Ritchie said.”

A strong, winning effort against the Florida Panthers on Saturday night would salvage a rough trip and get the Bruins spinning in the right direction in short order.

That’s not really the problem.

The issue with the Bruins is the same old problems that cropped up against the St. Louis Blues last June in the Stanley Cup Final and two years ago in the second-round series against Tampa Bay. The flaws are springing up again with a series of heavy, intense playoff-style games against quality opponents.

When the Bruins go up against opponents such as Colorado, Washington and Tampa Bay, the offense gets one-dimensional and the effort to score becomes challenging if the special teams are playing at a dominant clip. 

Bruce Cassidy sounded the alarm about it after watching another loss to Tampa Bay where the Bruins scored just enough to lose. There wasn’t enough going on offensively aside from the "Perfection Line" accounting for a first-period lead and a late, desperate goal from John Moore.

“The top line again was creating. We’re just not getting anything from the middle of the lineup in terms of offense,” lamented Cassidy. “You need four lines to produce for you in this league on a regular basis. It might not be [on Thursday]. It might be Saturday, but you need some offense to sort of balance things out. We need some guys to get going here a little bit. [They need] to at least find their opportunities and then they’ll go in. I’m not sure they’re even finding their opportunities yet, so that’s step one that they are chasing.”

Can Cassidy put his finger on what the issue is with the middle lines?

“Some of it is inside. You start playing some good teams that are fast, Colorado, Washington and Tampa Bay. It’s almost like playoff hockey in December. A lot of those guys in that room have lived it and they know what it’s about,” said Cassidy. “Make a decision, do you want to play that way or not? Then some of it is self-inflicted where we won neutral zone face-offs, and harmless kind of plays where it doesn’t get in, we turn it over and then take penalties against a potent power play. Is it the PK? Well, it’s a great power play and we really didn’t help ourselves in those situations.”

Cassidy is spot-on about not enough from the supporting players in the kind of games the B’s will be in the postseason. Jake DeBrusk finished with zero points and had zero shots on net in two of the three games against Colorado, Washington and Tampa. Danton Heinen had zero points and a minus-4 in those three games with five shots on net. Anders Bjork picked up an assist in the loss to Tampa Bay, but managed just two shots on net in the three games against the Avs, Capitals and Lightning. Brett Ritchie has zero points and a minus-2 in the three games since coming back from injury. Even David Krejci has no points, a minus-1 rating and just two shots on net in those three games.

The dilemma facing the Bruins is this: Is this just a preview of what’s going to eventually doom them in the postseason if nothing is done about it?

Certainly, the Bruins weren’t playing their best in the loss to Colorado, but the efforts against Washington and Tampa Bay were more focused and had the kind of urgency that Boston has played with most of the season. And it still wasn’t enough when push came to shove and underlying flaws came forward for a team that’s a little small, a little short on real scoring depth against quality teams and beatable going up against big, deep teams with a physical defensemen corps. 

One would hope that Don Sweeney and Cam Neely were watching closely the past week and took these losses for what they are. The Bruins are showing that they are going to need some help when things get tough in the postseason and that they could use at least one more viable source of offense among their top-six forwards.

They have a bunch of talented kids up front who have shown a propensity to disappear when things get tough against the hard teams and that isn’t going to help the Bruins much this spring. There’s enough of a sample size now to predict that isn’t going to change when it comes to DeBrusk, Bjork, Heinen and Ritchie. The Bruins need to do something about it ahead of the NHL trade deadline.

Whether it’s kicking the tires on Taylor Hall, or a more realistic target such as Los Angeles Kings right wing Tyler Toffoli, the Bruins have shown the past few games that they need some outsource things for help up front if they want to finish what they started last spring.

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Krejci (upper body) out for Sunday afternoon game vs Penguins

Krejci (upper body) out for Sunday afternoon game vs Penguins

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins will be without playmaking center David Krejci again on Sunday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Penguins as he’s been ruled out for the second half of the home-and-home series against Pittsburgh. 

It’s believed to be a lower-back issue for Krejci, 33, something he’s battled the past few years. He also missed the B's win Thursday over Pittsburgh in Boston.

The hope is that Krejci will feel good enough to play in the Tuesday pre-All-Star break finale against the Vegas Golden Knights ahead of a 10-day break around the bye week and All-Star weekend, then again an extended rest period of more than two weeks for the veteran second-line center might not be the worst thing in the world either.

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“He’s not traveling. He didn’t skate today so he doesn’t have a chance to play [on Sunday],” coach Bruce Cassidy of Krejci, who has 11 goals and 32 points in 41 games this season, but will miss his ninth game of the season due to injuries on Sunday. “We’ll look at Tuesday if he’ll skate on Monday, but then it becomes an issue of are you better off just getting a whole break in there. If he can come in and skate [on Monday] then that would be a good measure for [his readiness for] Tuesday.”

Charlie Coyle will bump up in his place between Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork and Par Lindholm will enter the lineup as a third-line center with Krejci still injured. It should be the same exact lineup as the one that scored a convincing 4-1 win over the Penguins on Thursday night.

Ahead of practice on Saturday the Bruins also recalled 6-foot-5 goaltending prospect Dan Vladar and Max Lagace was sent back down to Providence after he stopped 24 of 26 shots in the P-Bruins' 2-1 loss to Bridgeport on Friday night.  

Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairings against the Penguins based on Saturday practice at Warrior Ice Arena:

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

DeBrusk-Coyle-Bjork

Heinen-Lindholm-Kuhlman

Nordstrom-Kuraly-Wagner

 
Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Grzelcyk-Moore


Halak

Kuhlman jumps back in and helps Bruins while 'keeping it simple'

Kuhlman jumps back in and helps Bruins while 'keeping it simple'

The Bruins immediately went the speed and skill route after removing Brett Ritchie from the roster with Karson Kuhlman notching a pair of assists in a big win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Kuhlman finished with the two helpers and a plus-2 rating in just 9:56 of ice time in his first NHL appearance since he broke a bone in his leg back in mid-October. 

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It was obviously a promising start for Kuhlman in his second go-around with the Bruins this season and he immediately showed some chemistry with the second- and third-line forwards he was paired with throughout the 4-1 win on Thursday night. It’s now up to Kuhlman to keep it up after showing in the past that his game fades a bit once he plays a few games in a row and enters back into the grind of the NHL.

His speed and tenacity could help the Bruins in the short term, but only if he’s got the ability to play that way just about every night.

“What I like about [Karson] Kuhlman is what I’ve always said, is that he can sit for stretches. You know, you get into those power plays and he doesn’t get that many minutes, and his motor gets zero to sixty in a hurry,” said Bruce Cassidy. “The bigger-body guys, they just naturally have a tougher time with that when they sit, it just tends to be the way it is. So, that’s one thing we’ve always liked about Kuhly — he can get up, get motor, get on pucks, get on defense, win some races.

“I mean, tonight [Thursday] he obviously chipped in a little bit of offense, good for him. We expect some level of offense and to get it right away is a nice win, it’s nice to have that production. Drives the net on the [Sean] Kuraly goal — something else we’ve talked about, getting inside a little more. Big or small, we need that. Against good teams, you have to be able to do that. All in all, Kuhly, nice night for what he brings and we’re happy to have him back. He’s a nice player for us.”

The Bruins went into this season with Kuhlman earmarked as a top-six winger for David Krejci after he put together three goals and five points in 11 games last season and had a few moments in the playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final as well. It was as much a statement about the Bruins being short on top-six wingers as much as it was about their excitement in Kuhlman’s game. That remains the case with the trade deadline looming next month.  

“It was great to be back, to be honest with you. A lot of adrenaline and my legs were there and my conditioning was there. So, I was happy to be where we were at. I was happy to be back,” said Kuhlman. “It was just getting to the bench and re-focusing on what I can do to help the team win. My game is getting up and down the ice, winning puck battles and getting pucks to the net. Keeping it simple is one of the best things I can do to help this team.”

Some have deduced that Kuhlman (5-11, 185) replacing Ritchie (6-4, 220) means the Bruins have consciously chosen speed and skill over size and strength for the long haul and it remains to be seen if that’s the case. What Kuhlman, 24, did do is again show he's capable of helping the Bruins in short bursts and against smaller, speedier opponents. That in itself is no small feat for a team in search of energy and wins right now.