The Bruins played well enough to earn two points on Saturday. But, again, notable voids prevented them from getting even just one.
The opportunistic Red Wings took advantage of open slot areas and “tipped” their way to a 4-2 victory at TD Garden. Bruce Cassidy’s injury-plagued squad had spurts of quality, scoring chances, and spirited physical engagement, but came away with nothing to show for their gritty effort. Here is what we learned.
The Bruins brought the emotional fire but lacked in execution
“There was fire in our group,” Cassidy said postgame. “I don’t think we had a lot of fire around their net tonight.”
They didn’t — even though they outshot the Red Wings, 40-27.
Boston had some puck luck, with David Backes’ late first-period tally and Ryan Donato’s third-period power play goal both deflecting off Detroit sticks. Even so, their execution on outlet passes — out of their own zone and in the offensive end, especially on the power play — was off.
The Red Wings got enough traffic and tips through on Tuukka Rask; Tyler Bertuzzi (at 5:45 of the second) and Frans Nielsen (the go-ahead goal in 11:53 of the third) both diverted home teammates’ shots from the point for their ninth and first of the season, respectively. Additionally, Dylan Larkin cut through traffic to bank home a rebound on a Detroit power play and notch his 10th of the season.
For a team that developed some emotional building blocks — including Joakim Nordstrom’s spirited bout with Luke Witkowski and the ensuing donnybrook in the second period (Brad Marchand instigating once again) — the Bruins dug themselves a hole too deep on this night.
Officials interrupt second-period donnybrook and potential Rask-Howard duel
Jimmy Howard and Tuukka Rask on the verge of a goalie fight after chaos erupts between Bruins and Red Wings pic.twitter.com/tuNwHjhpOG
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) December 2, 2018
For a moment, it appeared we might have some old-time hockey between two Original Six franchises. The men in stripes had other ideas, however.
The action started when Bertuzzi refused to engage in a bout with Marchand at center ice. Marchand’s fellow linemate, Colby Cave, attempted to step in and settle things down. Marchand later gave a slight slash to Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard.
The two teams then found dance partners in front of the benches — including Howard and Rask, with the latter racing out to the red line “ready to go” as Jack Edwards called it. But the officiating crew drew the line and kept things from escalating.
The Red Wings somehow got a power play out of the event, which led to Larkin’s tally.
“I’m more concerned with how that all played out. We ended up shorthanded, and I don’t think that was appropriate,” Cassidy said about the incident.
“There was a lot of stuff going on tonight. They called Colby Cave kind of for just going over to talk to Bertuzzi, barely touched him. I thought that was kind of…a weak call, but at the end of the day, that’s life. I don’t know. Ask Tuukka if he wanted to fight the other goalie. If he says yes, then I’m on board with it. I’ll back my players. I don’t know.”
We did indeed ask Tuukka — and he confirmed his desire to drop the gloves with Howard.
“You need to get at least one under your belt in your career,” Rask said. “I saw the opportunity, and I know Jimmy pretty well. [There was] a big fight coming up tonight so, I feel like [it should’ve] set the stage for that heavyweight [bout].”
Rask and Howard will have to wait until their next on-ice tilt on March 31 to settle whatever differences exist — that is if they have a chance to do so.
Carlo returns, McAvoy finally reveals status
The Bruins are 26 games into the 2018-19 season. They already have enough medical expenses to pay for an entire year, especially with the defensive core. Brandon Carlo (upper-body), Charlie McAvoy (concussion), Zdeno Chara (knee), Kevan Miller (throat) and Urho Vaakanainen (head) have all missed significant time with their respective ailments.
Slowly but surely, things are looking up on the injury front. Saturday marked another day of progress with Carlo’s return following a nine-game absence. The 22-year-old notched three shots on goal and logged 17:39 of ice time. His biggest takeaway, however, was hesitating to engage physically on puck battles along the wall.
“I think it [the game] was pretty good overall. I liked the effort by the team, especially in the first two periods. Overall, just try and bring a little more energy to the ice; I feel like they kind of pushed us around at times and that’s not a good thing to have,” Carlo said. “Overall, I think that myself included could bump a couple more bodies.”
Carlo’s physicality will come with time. So will McAvoy’s return.
The 20-year-old defenseman spoke to the assembled Boston media for the first time since sustaining a concussion back on Oct. 18 in Edmonton. He admitted his cautious approach regarding the symptoms from his first career head injury but remains optimistic about returning to the Black and Gold sooner rather than later.
“I feel good. Feel good. I’m progressing well, and I’m very optimistic,” McAvoy said regarding his potential return. “I’m still [taking things] a day at a time. Like I said, my spirits are high, and I’m optimistic. Things are going well, and I’m starting to skate more and integrate with the team — and that’s the best part for me because they’ve been doing a heck of a job. It’s so good to see them all again and to be skating with them, back with the group.”
The Bruins will take any silver lining given their current state. Carlo’s return and McAvoy’s status are two steps in the right direction.