The Boston Bruins, even with Patrice Bergeron back in the fold, are in a funk.
Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals marked their third straight regulation loss and matched a season-long four-game skid (including overtime/shootout setbacks).
Bruce Cassidy’s squad had several opportunities to take control of Wednesday’s tilt featuring the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. Yet their power play struggles, a lack of urgency in the final minutes, and another frustrating replay review doomed the Black and Gold at Capital One Arena.
Heck, they even started on time as David Pastrnak scored his 26th goal of the season to give the Bruins an early 1-0 lead. And some parts of their game clicked, like the top line. But they just couldn’t sustain a full 60 minutes.
A pair of T.J. Oshie goals in the second period gave the Caps momentum heading into the locker room. Sean Kuraly evened things up early in the third after tipping Torey Krug’s shot past Braden Holtby only for Norris Trophy favorite John Carlson to answer shortly after.
Yes, the Bruins put forth a better effort compared to Monday’s ugly loss against the lowly Ottawa Senators, but they’re hardly interested in settling for a silver lining in their recent loss to the league’s top team. Here’s what we learned.
Head-scratching offside review once again plays a pivotal role.
The National Hockey League always hopes for a yearly increase in goal scoring. And yes it’s true they’ve come a long way since eliminating the old two-line pass rule after the lockout-cancelled 2004-2005 season.
But a league that so often shoots itself in the foot finds new ways to slow down the game. Enter the offside review, a scenario that the Bruins are all too familiar with.
They encountered the head-scratching review again on Wednesday when Bergeron appeared to give them a 2-0 first-period lead. Yet, even with Jake DeBrusk barely jumping offside 20 seconds prior to Bergeron’s tally, the officials overturned the goal in a pivotal moment.
This apparently was enough to overturn Patrice Bergeron’s eventual goal… pic.twitter.com/lN2iSGKR5j— Evan Marinofsky (@emarinofsky) December 12, 2019
DeBrusk, like Charlie Coyle in Montreal and David Pastrnak in Colorado, became the latest victim of being a fraction offside. And yes, by the letter of the law, the Bruins were guilty of committing hockey’s version of jaywalking. But why a league still emphasizes an unpopular review is anyone’s guess.
The Bruins will encounter an offside review again at some point. They would likely be the first team to start a petition to eliminate the offside review from the league’s rulebook.
Boston’s power-play woes continued.
Bergeron’s overturned goal would’ve given the Bruins their third power-play goal in eight games. This became Boston’s lone highlight with the man-advantage.
The Bruins generated some good looks against Holtby and Washington’s penalty killers, but they had difficulties stringing together quality shots on net. They settled for a mere eight shots on goal in five attempts.
Cassidy’s squad had several chances to seize momentum with their power play, especially with the Caps succumbing to mental lapses. They didn’t.
Granted, the Bruins faced the league’s second-ranked penalty kill on Wednesday. Washington’s shorthanded unit lived up to its billing. But Boston’s once league-leading power play now sits fourth — behind Edmonton, Tampa Bay and Vancouver — following its 1-for-17 showing during the four-game skid.
Perhaps Thursday’s tilt with the Lightning and their 18th ranked penalty kill will power up Boston’s man-advantage again.
The Bruins need to address their second-line right-wing carousel.
David Krejci could be a top-line winger in this league. DeBrusk played his way into a top-six role over the last three years. Together they form a fine second-line duo.
But DeBrusk and Krejci often have a missing piece to their second-line puzzle. Cassidy has rarely found a good fit to complete the trio over the last few seasons. The ongoing conundrum escalated to new heights on Wednesday.
Brett Ritchie drew the second-line assignment against the Caps. He provided a heavy presence with five hits but found himself on the bench with the Bruins in desperation mode. Anders Bjork joined DeBrusk and Krejci briefly in the third. The Bruins prefer to use Bjork on his strong side wing, which will likely keep the ex-Notre Dame standout on the third line with Charlie Coyle and Danton Heinen.
The Bruins don’t have many options within to fill the need. David Backes, a healthy scratch for the third straight game, provided a short-term spark at times with DeBrusk and Krejci during last year’s playoff run. He’s not a long-term solution.
Karson Kuhlman provided a similar short-term lift on the second line. He hardly gave the Bruins that spark in the top-six before suffering a broken bone in his leg back in October. The former Minnesota-Duluth forward isn’t a long-term solution, either.
Cassidy tried using Heinen at times with Krejci and DeBrusk. A lack of chemistry along with Heinen’s recent slump will likely keep him on the third line.
Don Sweeney tried to address the second-line carousel of wingers over the last two trade deadlines. He swung and missed on Rick Nash two years ago. His stellar acquisitions of Coyle and Marcus Johansson last season became counterproductive when Cassidy paired the two forwards together on the third line.
For the third straight year, Sweeney will likely have to search outside the organization in another attempt to close the rotating door on the second line. The Bruins can’t go into another postseason without a formidable top-six option to balance out the lineup.