The Boston Bruins entered their New Year’s Eve matinee with the lowly New Jersey Devils fresh off a three-game win streak. Yet, they also came to the Garden State a little banged up.
Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug both remain out after sustaining injuries against the Capitals before the holiday break. David Krejci and Connor Clifton also didn’t make the trip following Sunday’s 3-2 win over Buffalo.
So the Bruins came in without their second-line center, their top offensive blue-liners and another energetic sparkplug on the back end. That’s a tough predicament heading into any contest regardless of the opposition’s success.
Yet, Bruce Cassidy’s squad came out flying in the opening 40 minutes. All-star snub Brad Marchand netted his 20th of the season just 2:03 in and Joakim Nordstrom tipped in a gritty goal early in the middle stanza to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) December 31, 2019
Then the Bruins found themselves in quicksand. The energy they came out with during the first-plus 20 minutes didn’t carry over from the midway point of the second period on as they left Jaroslav Halak (42 saves) out to dry.
The Devils found new life against a turnover-prone Bruins squad and slowly overcame their 2-0 deficit. Blake Coleman put New Jersey within one — following an untimely Boston line change — after burying a one-timer past Jaroslav Halak just 4:31 after Nordstrom’s fourth of the season. Jesper Bratt evened things up — tipping P.K. Subban’s shot from the point — at 13:11 of the third, ultimately forcing overtime and eventually a shootout.
Chris Wagner answered Jack Hughes’ tally in Round 5, but the Bruins’ shootout woes continued after MacKenzie Blackwood robbed Patrice Bergeron following Damon Severson’s sixth-round marker.
Boston played with fire after taking a 2-0 lead
Their crisp decision-making and assertiveness in all three zones sparked the Bruins to a two-goal lead against a tanking Devils squad. Cassidy’s squad didn’t stick to their winning formula, however.
A bad line change led to Coleman’s tally in the second. Their attention to detail and energetic play from the first 20 minutes slowly faded away as the Devils kept pushing for the equalizer.
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) December 31, 2019
The Bruins still fired off 10 shots of goal in that second period even as their play deteriorated. They went a whole 11 minutes and change without tallying a shot on goal in the final stanza until Blackwood stopped David Pastrnak’s slap shot with 8:43 left in regulation.
Cassidy’s squad could’ve built off that Pastrnak shot and at least sustain some rhythm in the attacking end. But they couldn’t find a second wind as Bratt finally tied things up with the equalizer.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 31, 2019
“I don’t know if it was energy or [us] not playing the right way,” Cassidy told NESN’s Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley postgame. “We just didn’t manage pucks [well] in the second period and it kind of snowballed on us, and we probably got what we deserved in the end.”
The Bruins, arriving in Newark later than expected after a tough day of travel on Monday, could’ve used Krejci, Krug, McAvoy and even Clifford in this situation. Some players, like the recently Jeremy Lauzon, didn’t look out of place in their increased role. Others, like Brett Ritchie, regressed at a time where the Bruins needed all hands on deck.
With or without four of their key cogs, the Bruins certainly deserved their fate.
The Bruins aren’t built for shootout success
A team with two league-leading point producers (Marchand and Pastrnak), a perennial Selke candidate (Bergeron) and decent scoring depth with all four lines always seems ideal for shootout situations. Well, that’s hardly the case with this year’s Bruins.
Boston dropped to 0-6 in the glorified skills competition after scoring just once in six rounds. Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak, Charlie Coyle and Jake DeBrusk — coming off a two-goal outing against the Sabres on Sunday — all failed on their attempts.
Even a pair of shootout wins would’ve put the Bruins ahead of the Washington Capitals atop the Eastern Conference. They still sit comfortably in first place in the Atlantic Division standings, but these losses may very well haunt them in their chance for home ice for a potential postseason matchup against Alex Ovechkin and company for the right to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
“Those are big points that you let slip by, and we have to rectify that,” Bergeron said to reporters. “Obviously, you don’t want to put yourself in position when you’re up by a goal in the third. We’re better than that in terms of closing games…but if you’re in that position you have to bear down to get that extra point.”
Yes, the Bruins have done fairly well closing out teams as Bergeron alluded to. They haven’t lost in regulation yet when leading after two periods (14-0-4 overall in that scenario).
If anything, they’re happy to put the shootout losses behind through the first 41 games, but they could certainly use more wins in the glorified skills competition — and for that matter 3-on-3 overtime.
State of the Bruins remains strong at the midway point
The Bruins just finished one of their busiest months of the season and with that the first half of the 2019-20 campaign. Their one point in Newark puts them at 58 on the season after finishing the first 41 at 24-7-10.
Cassidy’s squad put the league on notice in the first two months. The Bruins won in every way imaginable during October and November, be it through late-game heroics, blowouts or tight-checking contests.
Yet one has to wonder if they encountered a bit of a reality check in the final calendar month. The Bruins went 6-5-4 in 15 games during a challenging December that saw two separate multi-game skids.
Perhaps they were due for a slump following their hottest start in franchise history. But if there’s a time to go through a slump it’s better to do so early than late.
The Bruins still need a few upgrades to put them over the top, including — again — a top-six winger to skate with DeBrusk and Krejci. But they’ve put themselves in a good spot as the calendar turns to 2020.