BOSTON — Moral victories aren’t what the Bruins are looking for right now, but there are reasons for optimism after Saturday night’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Bruins were without Brad Marchand -- their leader in goals, assists and points -- as he served the third and final game of his recent suspension. Boston's top defenseman, Charlie McAvoy, was a late scratch due to a non-Covid illness. Head coach Bruce Cassidy missed another game as he goes through the COVID protocols.
Despite all of these setbacks, the Bruins still outplayed the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions and emerged with a point.
Not the worst outcome by any means.
"I think our guys played really well tonight," Bruins acting head coach Joe Sacco said in his postgame press conference. "Even when we were down 2-0, we were playing a solid game. I thought the process was good for our guys. We felt, even down 2-0, that we were still in the game. That goal in the second period lifted us up and got us right back in there. We played hard and competed. Nobody took the night off, and it was good to see. Unfortunately, we don't get the extra point, but we can build off that game, for sure."
The Bruins absolutely dominated during 5-on-5 play. They had a 73-42 edge in shot attempts, a 36-17 lead in shots on net and a 42-23 advantage in scoring chances at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick. If not for an outstanding performance from Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Bruins would have cruised to an easy win.
The Bruins showed plenty of fight throughout the game.
They fell behind 2-0 on a pair of frustrating goals. The first was a shorthanded tally by Lightning rookie Taylor Raddysh, who made a nice move to beat Bruins netminder Jeremy Swayman and halt the momentum Boston had built to that point. The second Lightning goal came off a shot from Ondrej Palat that deflected off Bruins forward Tomas Nosek's skate and into the net.
It would've been easy to fold after trailing 2-0 against the world's best goaltender, but the Bruins kept attacking and eventually were rewarded. Charlie Coyle scored his seventh goal of the season -- one more than he had all of last season in 51 games -- to get the B's on the board in the second period. Curtis Lazar scored his first goal of the season to tie the game in the third period and force overtime.
Swayman also is playing much better after a tough loss to the New York Rangers on Black Friday. He made a career-high 42 saves in a shutout win over the Nashville Predators on Thursday and then made a bunch of big saves late in the third period Saturday to help the Bruins get to overtime. The shorthanded goal was a bad one for Swayman to give up, but he settled in well after that.
The underlying numbers are strong for the Bruins through 21 games, and that's why you still have to give them a chance to turn things around.
They are driving puck possession at a high rate, ranking third in the league in shot attempt percentage (1009 for, 829 against). They also lead all 32 teams in shots on net percentage (616 for, 464 against), expected goals for percentage and expected goals against, per Natural Stat Trick.
|Shot attempts %||54.90||3rd|
|Shots on net %||57.04||1st|
|Scoring chances %||53.62||7th|
In summary, the Bruins are playing the right away -- not giving up a ton of quality scoring chances or shots on net during 5-on-5 action.
The offense has been inconsistent, and that's the problem. But it's hard to imagine players such as Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, who've scored a lot of goals in their careers, having such low shooting percentages for an entire season. It's also encouraging to see bottom-six forwards like Erik Haula (who made a gorgeous pass on Coyle's goal Saturday), Jake DeBrusk (who scored Thursday vs. the Predators) and Lazar playing better.
It's been a rollercoaster first quarter of the season for the Bruins. Injuries, suspensions and losing Cassidy because of COVID-19 have all presented challenges. The team also added a bunch of new players into the mix after a busy free-agent period over the summer, in addition to completely overhauling the goaltending following a decade of Tuukka Rask leading that position.
Despite these issues, the Bruins aren't in a bad spot with the New Year approaching. They're in a playoff spot entering Sunday after getting a point against the Lightning.
Ultimately, this difficult stretch will benefit them down the road.
"I think it can only help," Coyle said. "You learn to work through some adversity, whether it's players out, coaches out, injuries. It's never going to be a perfect scenario during the regular season. You have to work through these things, and it's more opportunity for other guys to step up and help out."