“Hold on and hope for the best.”
That statement from NESN analyst Billy Jaffe following the Bruins’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Red Wings resembles the state of the franchise over the next four weeks without Patrice Bergeron (ribs) and Zdeno Chara (left knee).
There is some good to take out of this. The Bruins ended their road trip taking points in three of their those four games, going 1-1-2 mostly without the likes of Bergeron, Chara, Brandon Carlo (upper body), Charlie McAvoy (head), John Moore (lower body), Urho Vaakanainen (head) and Kevan Miller (hand), who returned from a 13-game absence Wednesday night.
“Listen, we battled hard,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said to Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley postgame about the road trip. “Except for the third period in Colorado, we kept the puck out of our net. We were determined to play good team defense, and we accomplished a lot of that. We were fairly disciplined trying to stay out of the box…we just needed some timely goals.”
Cassidy’s squad could certainly use more offense after tallying seven goals in the last four games. But they’ll take any silver lining during the next four weeks without Bergeron and Chara.
Here is what we learned from the Bruins’ road trip finale in the Motor City.
Tuukka Rask picks up where he left off
The Bruins dominated possession time and shot attempts against a Red Wings squad that earned their ninth win in their last 11 games. But they still needed quality goaltending from Tuukka Rask.
Rask, making his second start since returning from a personal absence two weeks ago, gave the Bruins a solid performance. Coming off his outstanding 36-save performance in Dallas on Nov. 16, the 2014 Vezina winner faced several quality scoring chances in the slot and on odd-man rushes en route to a 24-save outing.
Goaltending is key during this 10-15 game stretch as Cassidy’s makeshift lineup full of youngsters tries to find their footing.
Rask hasn’t strung together three solid consecutive outings this year. He’ll get that chance either against the Penguins (Friday) or Canadiens (Saturday in Montreal) as the Bruins embark on their next back-to-back slate.
Early-season overtime struggles continue
Neither Brad Marchand nor Torey Krug could help their goaltender out in a puck battle with Andreas Athanasiou during the extra session. The Red Wings forward, who tied things up at 2-2 just 2:14 after Chris Wagner’s third-period go-ahead tally, gained possession and fired a spin-o-rama shot past Rask for the walk-off goal.
This describes the Bruins’ 3 v. 3 overtime success (or lack thereof) through the first quarter of the 2018-19 regular season. Missed chances — including Jimmy Howard’s stop on David Pastrnak Wednesday night — and missing plays in the defensive end have led to their 1-4 OT mark. Their lone win came on Marchand’s franchise-leading 13th career overtime tally during a two-man advantage against the Stars on Nov. 5.
The Bruins could have avoided this situation altogether had Rask held on to the initial glove save before Athanasiosou’s tying tally. They didn’t. And they only have one point to show for it despite a 36-27 shot on goal advantage.
“We just have to be smarter [with the puck],” Cassidy said. “These are good players on the ice and they got to get it sorted out where we have puck possession and play to the net and whatnot.”
“Listen,” Cassidy added, “if we do the things right when we’re supposed to when we take the lead, it doesn’t go into overtime. It’s disappointing that we didn’t close it out and clamp down, but it’s something we’ll look at and go to work and try to get better for Friday.”
Prime time for the Bruins’ young guys
The Bruins are in survival mode for the next month. Yet, it’s a good time for evaluating some of the young, talented players trying to move up in the professional ranks.
The four-game road trip provided a small sample size for a handful of recent Providence call-ups. Some, like center Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson, are taking advantage of their opportunity with two goals in as many games. Others, like defensemen Jeremy Lauzon and Connor Clifton, are getting a bigger spotlight with top-four minutes in crucial situations.
Then there’s Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen. The Bruins need the trio of second-year forwards to take a major stride forward in their growth and development. DeBrusk is the only one so far taking that jump from young prospect to a core player following his outstanding postseason last spring.
The Bruins made significant progress thanks to a strong rookie class in 2017-18. They’re hoping the next corps of rookies, like Forsbacka Karlsson, Lauzon, Clifton and Vaakanainen (whenever he returns from injury) to replicate that success during trying times.