One team looked like they were coming off a break in a rare home game on Causeway St. The other appeared like they were in mid-season form at times.
The Bruins didn’t fit the latter description. Their timing looked off all night and once again they had to play from behind.
Kyle Palmieri scored on two breakaway attempts in the middle stanza. Pavel Zacha responded to Jake DeBrusk’s first goal of the season — a power-play marker — to give New Jersey a 3-1 lead heading into the second intermission.
With David Krejci exiting after the first period and without a pair of puck-moving defensemen in Matt Grzelcyk and Jakub Zboril, Bruce Cassidy’s squad had a difficult time moving the puck in transition. They found themselves caught with extended defensive zone shifts more often than not, halting their transition game in the process.
Yet the Bruins had a chance to steal a point after Charlie McAvoy pulled the team within one on a 6-on-4 power play late in regulation. This comeback bid, however, fell short as the Devils staved off Boston’s desperation in the final minute to secure their 3-2 victory.
“I don’t think anyone feels good about their game after that game,” a blunt DeBrusk said in his postgame Zoom meeting with the media.
Here’s what we learned after the Bruins suffered consecutive losses for the second time this season.
Second period flare ups haunt Bruins
Pastrnak assessed that the Bruins didn’t have their legs going from the opening puck drop. But they came out of an opening 20 minutes rather unscathed despite some long shifts in the defending end.
“Tough start,” Pastrnak said. “Our first period wasn’t even close to what it should be. It just seemed like we couldn’t get anything going, either our legs or possession in the offensive zone.”
If the start wasn’t any good, then the middle 20 was, well, a cluster.
— Boston Bruins on CLNS (@BruinsCLNS) February 19, 2021
Palmieri found his way behind Boston’s D on his pair of goals, while Zacha found himself alone in the slot on a 4-on-4 tally. Cassidy’s usually stout defense — without Zboril and Grzelcyk — had one of their roughest nights of the season. Without Jaroslav Halak bailing them out at times during his 23-save outing, the Bruins may have been run out of the building.
“I just thought they won the races and the 1-on-1 battles [for the puck],” Cassidy said of the second-period issues against the Devils. “We just didn’t do what it took to sort of get pucks back and hang on to pucks. As a result, they came at us, and they were the better team.”
Pastrnak and company still had a fighting chance after the seventh-year forward assisted on McAvoy’s power-play tally to put the Bruins within one with 1:06 left in regulation. Unlike previous comebacks, the B’s rarely showcased a steady attacking zone rhythm against an opportunistic Devils bunch on Thursday night.
The Bruins know they can’t always rely on come-from-behind theatrics. Thursday’s effort proved they need to establish more 60-minute efforts and spend less time playing catchup hockey.
Anders Bjork provided a rare bright spot
The ex-Notre Dame forward has had his share of ups and downs during his four professional hockey seasons. He entered the 2021 campaign in a make-or-break year of sorts.
Bjork didn’t find the back of the net on Thursday. Yet, in Boston’s shaky outing, he hardly looked out of place. In fact, he was Boston’s best player.
Nice wheels from Anders Bjork to generate this scoring chance against Blackwood. pic.twitter.com/Z6Tfrfzhtp
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) February 19, 2021
The 24-year-old winger won his share of 1-on-1 puck possession battles. Though he only managed two shots on net in his 11:05 of ice time playing both wings, Bjork remained assertive in the attacking end, drew a double-minor high-sticking call — and blood from P.K. Subban — leading to DeBrusk’s first goal of the season and remained hard to play against.
“I liked his game tonight,” Cassidy said of Bjork. “He had to get stitched up, so we lost him for a little while, and then Krech [Krejci] goes down for a little while, so we’re juggling guys around [the lineup]. I thought he played better on his left [side]. He was attacking through the neutral zone on his forehand. He was weaving his way through there, so we tried to keep him there…I liked his game. He bounced back after he took a hit from Subban late, and he wanted to get back out there. I thought he was good for us tonight. He had some good attacks and some good looks at the net but just had some tough luck finishing.”
The finishes will come along with more consistency. The Bruins will need similar efforts from Bjork in the long run.
Weighing the Bruins options without Krejci
The Bruins entered the night without a pair of left-side defensemen. Now they may have to go at it without their second-line centerman.
Krejci exited the first period with a lower-body injury. Cassidy didn’t provide any further update on Krejci’s status during his postgame press conference.
The fifth-year Boston bench boss altered his lines for Thursday’s matchup hoping to balance out his lineup. He slotted Pastrnak with Krejci and Nick Ritchie and moved DeBrusk to the top line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
Cassidy may face a more significant lineup conundrum as early as Sunday if Krejci can’t play against the Flyers in Lake Tahoe. His first decision revolves around the second-line center spot in Krejci’s potential absence. He mentioned Trent Frederic (currently a bottom-six winger), Jack Studnicka (a natural centerman who spent more time at wing in Boston and Providence this year) and Greg McKegg as potential replacements.
Some of the younger forwards will have an increased opportunity to contribute if Krejci is out for a significant amount of time. But the Bruins, still struggling with 5v5 scoring production, can’t afford to lose Krejci for long.
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