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What we've learned from the Bruins' undefeated start to 2019-20 season

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What we've learned from the Bruins' undefeated start to 2019-20 season

Here’s What We Learned from a weekend where the Bruins took a 1-0 shutout victory over the Arizona Coyotes to push out to a 2-0-0 start on their four game Western Conference swing to begin the regular season.

1)      Jaroslav Halak looks primed to again take playing time from Tuukka Rask. The talk during training camp is that Rask would probably get more in the range of 50-55 starts this season after finishing with only 46 games played a season ago. He wouldn’t be taking any leave of absence this season, after all, and one would expect that Rask is going to get off to a better start than he did last season when he limped through October. Obviously Rask looked good on opening night and it doesn’t appear that we’re going to see his usually sluggish start, but Halak was even better stopping 35 shots in Saturday night’s shutout of the Coyotes. He was stopping breakaway chances and shutting down tic-tac-toe passing plays from Phil Kessel and Clayton Keller, and generally stepped up on a night when the Bruins weren’t really all that good against a young, hungry hockey team. This is all good news for the Black and Gold. If Rask stumbles a little early then Halak is there to step in and get the B’s through the early portion of the season again, and if not then Halak is going to again push Rask hard for playing time while making sure both are playing at high levels.

2)       The Bruins top line has thankfully knocked the rust off their game. They weren’t great on Saturday night either, but they were good enough to get the win against the Coyotes. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron teamed up with a first period goal late in the stanza after the entire team had struggled for most of the opening 20 minutes. It was vintage work by the B’s dynamic duo with Bergeron sliding a backhanded pass to Marchand in the face-off circle for a short side snipe past Darcy Kuemper. That ended up being the difference in the game, but it was also a byproduct of the top trio being much more in sync with 15 shot attempts from the three explosive forwards. They were generating offense and chances, and that’s exactly where they need to be for the B’s to enjoy sustained success. Saturday night was evidence it isn’t going to take very long for them to get back to their usual dominant level.

3)      It’s early in the season, but it sure looks like Charlie McAvoy is going to be the workhorse for the Bruins. He’s led the B’s in ice time in each of his first two games and is averaging 22:18 of ice time while playing in all situations and kicking in a little bit of offense thus far. Interestingly enough 42-year-old Zdeno Chara has also been under 20 minutes of ice time in each of the first two games even as others like Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo also topped 20 minutes in Saturday night’s win over the Coyotes. Many have screamed and cried about “load management” for aging players like Chara and Patrice Bergeron to preserve them for the long haul, including getting them at their peak in the playoffs. Whelp, it looks like the B’s are doing just that a few games into the regular season.

PLUS

*Brad Marchand had the game’s only goal, six shot attempts and was much better on Saturday than he was in Thursday night’s opener in Dallas.

*Jaroslav Halak stopped 35 shots, collected a shutout and was even better in his regular season debut than Tuukka Rask was on opening night. It’s such a good sign for the season that both B’s goalies are off to strong beginnings.

*David Krejci played nearly 16 minutes of ice time and looked solid after missing the opening night game with a lower body injury. He wasn’t a big factor on the score sheet, but his healthy return was really the big development in this one.

MINUS

*One shot attempt, one hit and one takeaway along with a 2-for-6 performance in the face-off circle for Par Lindholm. People can talk all the livelong day about him doing the little things out on the ice, but you usually have to search for the little things when a guy isn’t doing much of anything impactful out on the ice. I’m not seeing much thus far to his game.

*I didn’t love the decision to scratch David Backes based on a pretty solid opening night from the 35-year-old, but I guess I somewhat understand from a perspective of keeping him fresh when he’s in the lineup. Somebody had to sit to make room for David Krejci, though, and I guess it came down to Backes.

*After being dominant on opening night, Charlie Coyle was a bit of a non-factor on Saturday night. If Coyle really wants to become an impact player for the Bruins then he needs to be more consistent with the game we saw against Dallas.

Five bold Bruins predictions for 2019-20 season>>>>>

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Bruins getting frustrated with shootout futility: 'Usually shootouts are 50/50, right now it feels like it's 20/80'

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Bruins getting frustrated with shootout futility: 'Usually shootouts are 50/50, right now it feels like it's 20/80'

BOSTON – Boston, we have a problem.

One of the big bugaboos for the Black and Gold this entire season has been the shootout, and their complete futility at what’s essentially a skills challenge to determine a winner and loser in NHL regular season game. It cropped up again in Saturday night’s 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals at TD Garden where the Bruins let a one-goal lead slip away in the final minute of the third period and watched as another team waited them out in overtime and the shootout for the two points.

For the second straight time, Charlie Coyle finally scored a goal for the Bruins during the shootout making him the only effective player in that arena this season. And Jaroslav Halak kept them in it with some acrobatic saves in the extra session.

But in the end, the B’s best available players didn’t come through in the shootout session and the Bruins dropped to 0-4 this season when it comes to the shootout.

“I think so,” admitted Pastrnak, when asked if the shootout problems have become a bit of a mental issue at this point. “We know it hasn’t been our strength and we haven’t been able to pull a win out of the shootouts. It sucks obviously. Usually shootouts are 50/50, but for us right now it feels like it’s about 20/80.”

Or 0/100 actually at this point.

Part of the issue for the Bruins is their inability to beat teams in overtime and the other part is a complete inability to even be competitive in the shootout.

“In our group, now, at some point, the conversation becomes ‘do you sell out in overtime because we struggle in shootouts, right?’ But, at the end of the day, I thought we’ve made strides in overtime,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We lost a lot of [overtime games] early, at least we’re getting our opportunities to win in overtime, so we’d like to be able to close one of those out. But that’s a bit of the, maybe, what’s happened in the shootout, right?

“When you get in all alone [at the net on breakaway chances], we’re more of a volume team, even though we have high-end skill, it would seem in the short sample size. It’s now growing into a larger sample size, so it’s something we’re looking at. But we’re not going to overanalyze. Every day, it’s been so much time in practice [so] we [can’t] forget about the rest of the game that I feel is more important for us down the road, but we do need to address it. We have, but maybe we need a little bit more time on that.”

Part of the problem is that Boston’s goaltending becomes less than elite in the shootout, and it’s a noted area of the NHL game that Rask has never particularly liked, or felt comfortable with, during his NHL career. Halak gave the Bruins a fighting chance with diving saves in Saturday night’s loss, so that wasn’t the issue at all.

Instead it’s a Bruins team that’s 2-for-16 overall in the four losses in the shootout this season, and Boston’s big offensive guns in Marchand (0-for-4) and Pastrnak (0-for-3) are a combined 0-for-7 this season. Pastrnak is now 3-for-20 over his career with a very middling 15 percent success rate in the shootout, but Marchand is a bit better with nine goals in 41 career attempts for a 21.9 percent success rate.

Strangely enough, Patrice Bergeron is one of the most accomplished shootout guys on the Bruins roster with 28 goals in 89 attempts for a 28.1 percent success rate, but he was never tapped in any of Boston’s first three shootouts before being unavailable due to injury on Saturday.

The Bruins tried something different by giving fourth line winger Chris Wagner shootout attempts in each of the last couple of games after showing some decent moves within his breakaway chances.

But Wagner is 0-for-2 as well and at this point doesn’t really merit any more looks ahead of more offensively accomplished players on the Bruins roster.

So what can the Bruins do at this point given the shootout futility where their best players aren’t getting it done?

Part of it involves sticking with guys like Pastrnak and Marchand that have the goods to eventually succeed in the shootout, and part of it might be practicing it a little more often than the Bruins do in their hectic practice schedule during the regular season.

The other part?

It’s probably time to use some younger guys like Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen that don’t have a book on them already around the NHL when it comes to shootout tendencies, and perhaps grooming one of them to be a shootout specialist with a varying degree of moves. They may never be the shootout weapon that TJ Oshie is with his career success rate of over 50 percent in the shootout, but they might actually pick up the extra point once in a while.

That is something the Bruins aren’t doing right now and it’s already cost them four very valuable points this season.

Haggerty's Talking Points: Cut Halak some slack in Bruins loss>>> 

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Talking Points from the Bruins' 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals

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Talking Points from the Bruins' 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals

Talking points from Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals at TD Garden . . . 

GOLD STAR: The Bruins wouldn’t have even received a point in Saturday night’s game if it weren’t for the efforts of Jaroslav Halak. The B’s netminder stopped 42 shots and was brilliant from beginning to end against a Capitals team that outshot Boston nearly 2-to-1 through the course of the entire game. He stopped 17-of-18 in the first period when the Bruins didn’t have their legs under them, and would have stolen the game for Boston if Zdeno Chara could have cleared the zone ahead of T.J. Oshie’s game-tying in the final minute of the third period. He was just as good in the shootout, with diving stops that kept the Bruins in the extra session, and certainly deserved a better fate at the end of the day.

🏒 HIGHLIGHTS FROM BRUINS' 3-2 LOSS TO CAPITALS

BLACK EYE: It’s time for Bruce Cassidy to stop over-thinking the shootout. He tried to use Chris Wagner based on a pretty good breakaway move he’s showed at times, and the thinking there was that perhaps an outside-the-box choice work create a shootout spark for the Bruins. Well, it has not, and instead Charlie Coyle is the only player that’s had success in the shootout this season for the Bruins, who are now 0-for-4 in shootout games. They need to go with a much more straight-ahead shootout philosophy, where they just get their best offensive guys out there quickly. That means having Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak as two of your top three guys to start, and perhaps featuring Coyle more now that he’s enjoyed some success. One thing is certain: They need to do something differently, because whatever they’re doing right now isn’t working.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins were hanging on by a thread while protecting the one-goal lead in the third period, and were outshot by an 11-6 margin by Washington while they put a ton of pressure on the Boston defense. Jaroslav Halak was up to the challenge for most of the period and the Bruins had a couple of chances to extend the lead, including a David Krejci redirect that went through Braden Holtby’s pads and trickled past the net, but the undermanned Bruins simply ran out of gas when it came to holding their slim lead. With the Bruins missing their best defender in Patrice Bergeron due to injury, T.J. Oshie scored the game-tying goal with a little less than a minute left to play with Sean Kuraly out on the ice with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. That’s not the ideal shutdown forward crew for the Bruins and it came back to bite them in the end.  

HONORABLE MENTION: David Pastrnak was one of the few Bruins playing with some energy throughout the game, and he scored what looked like was going to be the winning goal a few minutes into the second period. Pastrnak had a monster shift where he kicked things off for David Krejci and Charlie McAvoy to connect for a scoring chance, but McAvoy missed the open net with a one-timer shot from the slot. Pastrnak alertly picked up the puck and fired a bad angle shot for his 17th goal of the season. He was a key piece of offense with the Bruins missing so much of their firepower between Bergeron, Torey Krug and Jake DeBrusk. Pastrnak finished with the goal, 10 shot attempts and a couple of takeaways in 22:58 of ice time for the Black and Gold.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0-for-4 – The Bruins’ record in the shootout this season. They continue to lose vital points in the glorified skills challenge, with only Coyle seemingly enjoying any success.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “He was our best player by far. [It’s] disappointing that we couldn’t finish it because I thought our third period, we really bought into what we needed to compared to the Florida game, for example. We didn’t give up much at all [at the end of the game].” –Bruce Cassidy, on Halak and the improved third period for the Bruins, compared to their collapse against the Panthers a few days ago.

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