The Bruins welcomed Zdeno Chara, Jake DeBrusk and Kevan Miller back to the lineup in their final home contest of 2018. The lowly New Jersey Devils, meanwhile, came to TD Garden without reigning Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall.
It didn’t go according to plan.
Fresh off the three-day holiday break, the Bruins came out rusty. First-period goals by Damon Severson and Kyle Palmieri put Boston behind the proverbial eight ball against a squad that sits last in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re chasing it the whole night. When you chase it, you usually end up not catching it. That’s just the way it works in this league,” Bruce Cassidy said about his team’s disappointing performance.
Here’s what we learned from Boston’s 5-2 loss on Thursday night.
Simply put, the Bruins came out flat.
They looked lackadaisical, continually turned the puck over in dangerous areas and it ultimately led to quality scoring chances in the opposite direction, including the game’s first tally just 25 seconds in.
“It also matters coming out of the break. You don’t have the same energy level. You haven’t been into it for a while,” Cassidy said. “So I think the teams that get the lead today in most of the games throughout the league probably had more success.”
The Bruins weren’t the same and couldn’t find a scoring remedy anywhere, despite outshooting the Devils 42-33 and hitting two posts.
Given the recent three-day break, it is hard not to think that rust played a factor, but John Moore and the Bruins aren’t buying that.
“We’re professionals, you can’t use that as an excuse,” the ex-Devils defenseman said. “You got to be ready, so we’ll address that [Friday] in practice.”
Chara, Miller and DeBrusk return
“Listen, it’s a good problem to have,” Cassidy said about getting healthier. “You want your best players in there. They’re going to have to play sooner or later once they’re cleared to play.”
Chara, who missed 19 games with an MCL injury, looked comfortable. Boston’s captain finished with two shots on net in 19:13 of ice time.
It wasn’t a flashy return or the result they had hoped for, but the Bruins are happy to have their big 6-foot-9 defenseman back in the lineup.
“Not bad,” Chara said following his first game since Nov. 14. “One thing we can’t really practice is timing, that’s one thing you really miss the most. Conditioning-wise, strength was fine, everything was good. Just to be in the right spot that was kind of one thing that was kind of getting stuck in between. Other than that, I felt pretty good to be honest with you for the first game in a long time. I thought as the game went on, I started feeling better being in those spots.”
Both Chara and Miller (16:50 on ice) slowly acquainted themselves back in the lineup. DeBrusk, meanwhile, brought an energy and intensity to his play that the Bruins lacked in the past few weeks.
The 2015 first-rounder, who missed nine games with a concussion, created a few quality scoring chances including a wrist shot off of the crossbar in the first period and a diving attempt where he — and not the puck — ended up in the back of the net.
Playing for the first time in nine games, Jake DeBrusk doesn't seem hesitant driving to the net. pic.twitter.com/DpSCICNudh
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) December 28, 2018
Despite his energetic return, the 22-year-old still has some kinks to work out.
“Rusty to be honest. Decent starting off, I think I hit a bar but as it went along, there was a couple little detail things that I definitely need to clean up,” DeBrusk said. “It was obviously nice to get back out there but not the result we wanted by any means. You’ll get more reps and when you do that, you’ll feel better.”
The Bruins are still a one-line team
Cassidy is closer to having a clean bill of health, but the third-year bench boss knows his lineup isn’t clicking quite yet.
Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak form one of the best lines in the National Hockey League. Quite the luxury, yet keeping the trio intact compromises the other three lines.
Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork have all found success when given top-line minutes, but the young forwards don’t have the same production when given a second-, third- or fourth-line role.
David Backes, Colby Cave and Joakim Nordstrom provide bottom-six depth. None are formidable top-six options.
Bergeron and the dynamic duo of wingers rarely miss a beat when separated from each other, but the Bruins can’t be a one-line team for the long haul.