Clearly there are myriad things that could have gone better for the Bruins during the round robin portion of the NHL’s Return to Play.
They could have won one of the round robin games to begin with, or even just held a lead at some point rather than being tied or trailing for all 180 minutes they played against the Flyers, Lightning and Capitals over the last week of action. But it’s plainly obvious the Bruins viewed the three round robin games strictly as a ramp-up instrument to get them ready for the real playoff games rather than anything to be concerned about when it comes to wins and losses.
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Still, there are lingering offensive questions with this Presidents' Trophy-winning group that will need to be answered as they ready for the first-round matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes beginning Tuesday night at 8 p.m.
Pretty much all those questions concern the Bruins offense, which never showed up in three wholly unimpressive round robin losses.
The good news is that the chances were plentiful on Sunday afternoon against Washington, but the bad news is that Braden Holtby very clearly still owns Boston after stopping 30-of-31 shots.
“We clearly generated more offense tonight than we have in other games more consistently. [We] didn’t finish well around the net a lot 5-on-5. Our power play is still work in progress,” said Bruce Cassidy. “[David] Krejci’s line looked comfortable, scored a goal obviously. They played well, had their legs, made some plays. Ondrej [Kase] was good on the walls.
The last few games [were] better offensively so that’s starting to come. Guys that have been there, obviously those stakes are still in the ground. You look at our top line, they’ve been held off the scoresheet. I believe that it’s going to be a tough task for Carolina to do that on a consistent basis. I think those guys will be able to get their game going. We’re going to need that primary scoring for one. Maybe some of that will come to life on the power play.
The Bruins averaged 1.33 goals per game in the three round robin games and went 0-for-9 on the power play while managing more than one goal just once in the four games played (one exhibition and three round robin games) since arriving in the Toronto bubble a couple of weeks ago. That’s a far cry from the Bruins team that finished 9th in the NHL with 3.24 goals per game this season and 2nd in the NHL with a power play that scored on over 25 percent of its possessions during the regular season.
The Perfection Line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak finished with just one point in the three round robin games while struggling to finish plays, but they did manage a combined 11 shots on net and 21 shot attempts in Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Washington. Bergeron was Bergeron for most of the three games and Marchand finally looked like himself in Sunday’s round robin finale after forcing a lot of plays while knocking rust off during these last couple of weeks.
The good news is that the game-breaking Pastrnak is shooting the puck early and often while generating numerous offensive chances as he did against the Capitals. It’s a far cry from last postseason when a thumb injury clearly eroded his confidence shooting the puck and forced him to become a passive offensive factor in a decidedly uncharacteristic development. A confident, healthy Pastrnak at the height of his game, as he is right now, will be a game-changer for the Bruins in these playoffs.
And that’s really what it comes down to for the Black and Gold.
The concern is that Boston can be stopped in the postseason if the Perfection Line can be contained, as they were by the St. Louis Blues last season and the Lightning a couple of seasons ago in the second round of the playoffs. Certainly, the Hurricanes aren’t that kind of defensive team, which will make this a problematic matchup for Carolina and a series where the B’s top guys could do tons of scoring damage.
The later rounds will likely be the question mark when it comes to secondary scoring and support players stepping up and doing their thing for the Bruins. Chris Wagner and the B’s fourth line were consistently Boston’s best players during the round robin, and Jake DeBrusk scored the team’s only goal on Sunday afternoon in a needed show of offense ahead of the first playoff round next week.
When it comes to the later rounds and possible showdowns with teams like the Lightning, Capitals or Flyers, the Bruins will need to get some answers from their middle six forwards and some consistent production from DeBrusk, David Krejci, Ondrej Kase, Charlie Coyle and Anders Bjork just to name a few key players.
Clearly there weren’t enough of those offensive answers in the round robin games while Bruce Cassidy was tinkering with different line combinations and fine-tuning ahead of the “real hockey” as Tuukka Rask called it after Sunday’s game.
“I think we kind of improved over these three [round robin] games,” said Tuukka Rask. “We worked very hard for our goals and just didn’t get rewarded. But I think that’s going to come, you find a way [to get through offensively].”
Some will look at the Bruins' struggling offensive game in the round robin and see a trend that could lead to their demise in the next couple of weeks. Others — including pretty much everybody inside the B’s dressing room — have already moved on to next week’s series against Carolina and started building the offensive swagger needed to win during the playoffs.
The B’s clearly aren’t worried about the round robin or their offense, and we’ll know pretty quickly whether everybody else should be or not.