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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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Bruins mired in losing streak: 'I don't think we've sucked'

Bruins mired in losing streak: 'I don't think we've sucked'

TAMPA BAY – The Bruins have dropped five games in a row for the first time this season, including four straight regulation losses, as their lead in the Atlantic Division has shrunk to single digits for the first time in weeks.

The latest setback was a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Thursday night that gives them losses in three of the first four games on a road trip ending this weekend against the Florida Panthers. The Lightning scored a pair of power play goals and once again, it looked like the B’s just didn’t have enough to get over the hump in the third period after they’d come up just a little short against Washington the previous night.

The offense has slowed with just 20 goals over the last nine games since blowing up for eight scores at the Bell Centre, and the power play has been a shadow of its former self while injuries forced the Bruins to tinker with the personnel. The penalty kill was the problem against the Lightning with Tampa Bay scoring on two of their three power play opportunities. Meanwhile, the B’s are getting very little offense from anybody aside from their top line once again.

The Bruins have enough veterans that they aren’t going to hit the panic button particularly given where they are in the standings, but some results are becoming necessary soon before it spirals out of control.

“It sucks to lose. We hate to lose here. But we’ve played decent. You’re not going to win them all. Obviously, you’re not going to go 80-3 or whatever it was that [Brett] Ritchie said,” said Tuukka Rask, who allowed three goals on 31 shots in defeat. “You don’t want to lose too many games in a row and you’ve got to put a stop to it. It’s been a tough road trip, but we’ve got one more game left and hopefully we can finish it off on a high note.

“We have experience and we’ve been through a lot. We recognize when we suck and when we don’t. I don’t think we’ve sucked. It’s just a matter of getting a couple of bounces, getting a lead and then playing with it. For the most part it’s just playing the right way and then you lose some of these tight games.”

The good news is that the Bruins have played much better against better opponents in Washington and Tampa Bay over the last couple of games after playing down to competition like Ottawa and Chicago in the games prior to that. But the losses aren’t going to turn into wins until they execute with a little more precision in certain instances where penalties, special teams play and a lack of secondary offense hurt them in a big way.

“We gave up two goals tonight where we’d won neutral zone face-offs. Harmless kind of plays where the puck doesn’t get in, we turn it over and then we take penalties against a potent power play,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We didn’t help ourselves in those situations. These are instances where guys need to be better, make the right play and execute.

“Even late in the game we have a chance to tie it up on a backdoor pass and we don’t execute. The power play was disappointing. We don’t execute. Some of it is that we’re playing to what we’re capable of, or what we think we’re capable of.”

Given that Florida is one of the teams most closely chasing them in the division and their Atlantic lead has almost been halved over the course of this current road trip, one would expect the Bruins are going to dig deep for a winning effort against the Panthers on Saturday. If not, then this continues to become the worst losing streak the B’s have experienced in a couple of seasons where they’ve previously managed to steer clear of the extended losing stretches.

Tim Thomas tears up while discussing hockey related brain injuries >>>

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Penalty kill kills Bruins against the Lightning as B's drop fifth straight game

Penalty kill kills Bruins against the Lightning as B's drop fifth straight game

GOLD STAR: Steve Stamkos has really powered the Lightning this season and he was the No. 1 factor for them in their win over the Bruins. It was Stamkos who evened things up in the second period when he was left wide open in the slot area on the PP and wristed one under Tuukka Rask’s glove to get the Bolts on the board. Then he scored the game-winner in the third period after turnovers from John Moore and Patrice Bergeron in the defensive zone as he fired one from the high slot that Tuukka Rask managed to get a glancing piece of before it passed him.

Stamkos finished with two goals and a plus-1 rating in 17:07 of ice time to go along with six shot attempts and three hits for the Tampa captain.

BLACK EYE: The Bruins penalty kill was atrocious allowing Tampa two power play goals in three chances, and really not even being that competitive about it in the special teams battle. Stamkos got a wide open look all alone in the slot with time and space to snap a wrist shot past Tuukka Rask for the first power play goal and the Bruins PK was running around on the second Tampa power play possession before Nikita Kucherov fed Brayden Point in front for the goal through traffic.

Meanwhile, the Bruins went 0-for-3 on their own power play and once again lost the special teams battle after dominating that battleground earlier in the season.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins were in good shape for most of the game until more than midway through the third period when breakdowns in their own end doomed them. It was John Moore and Patrice Bergeron that lost battles and didn’t clear pucks before Steve Stamkos gathered it in and rifled home the game-winner from the high slot on a blast that Tuukka Rask couldn’t quite get a clean glove save on in the moment.

The Stamkos goal gave Tampa Bay a 3-1 lead in the third period that was cut into when Moore picked up a goal later on, but for the second night in a row, the B’s didn’t have quite enough to get over the hump against a quality opponent.

HONORABLE MENTION: Maybe he could have squeezed off a shot in the third period when he had a clear look at the net, but Charlie McAvoy was one of the few Bruins players generating offense with the game on the line in the final 20 minutes. He was taking pucks hard to the net, drawing penalties and making things happen when it appeared the legs were tiring for other members of the Black and Gold.

McAvoy finished with three shots on net, five hits while soaking up a team-high 27:41 of ice time for the Bruins. He picked up an assist on the Patrice Bergeron goal in the first period as well and had one of his better games for the B’s as of late. That’s a good sign that things are turning around for him after a slow start and a recent inconsistent stretch.

BY THE NUMBERS: 8 – the number of points lead in the Atlantic Division for the Bruins, the first time since Nov. 26 that it was in single digits after a Bruins loss and Sabres win on Thursday night.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We hate to lose, but we’re not going to go 80-3 or whatever it was that (Brett) Ritchie said.” –Tuukka Rask, talking about five losses in a row and poking fun at a Ritchie quote from Washington a few days ago where he killed some basic math. 

Tim Thomas tears up while discussing hockey related brain injuries >>>

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