Bruins

3 takeaways from the Bruins’ uninspiring loss to the New York Rangers

Jaroslav Halak deserved better.

The puck goes wide of Jaroslav Halak during the third period. Michael Dwyer/AP Photo

COMMENTARY

The Bruins entered Saturday’s matinee with the New York Rangers adding Zach Senyshyn to the ever-growing injured list and Jake DeBrusk to COVID protocol.

Working with another makeshift lineup, Bruce Cassidy’s club arrived at TD Garden hoping to earn consecutive wins for the first time since mid-February. But they hardly looked like the same well-oiled squad from Thursday’s 4-0 victory over the Broadway Blueshirts. Instead, they looked like a team running on decaf.

Even Brendan Lemieux’s cheap shot on Trent Frederic in the opening moments of the second period hardly poked the bear. Lemieux hardly looked interested answering to his hit against any of Frederic’s teammates.

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For that matter, the Bruins, playing their sixth game in 11 days, lacked execution and effort. They fired a paltry 18 shots on net, went 0-for-5 on the power play, lacked layers defensively and rarely generated any attacking zone rhythm in 5v5 play. All this piled up to an ugly 4-0 loss at TD Garden.

“[It] was probably more so a lack of mental focus,” defenseman Matt Grzelcyk said. “We were trying to build a little more consistency in our game, and get a win and go from there. It kind of seems like the next night we’re not as sharp as we need to be. We need to make sure we bring it every night, and like I said, it’s unacceptable right now.”

Here’s what we learned as the Bruins took two steps back Saturday after putting one foot forward in Thursday’s win.

The top line’s rare off night lingered Boston’s ailing lineup.

There’s no sugarcoating this. The Bruins are a one-line team.

The top trio of Brad Marchand — questionable heading into Saturday’s game after missing Friday’s practice — Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak had one of their worst outings in their time together. The trio combined for six shots of net, but none of those attempts came in quality scoring areas. The Bruins only managed one 5v5 shot attempt when they were on the ice.

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Losing DeBrusk to COVID protocol and Senyshyn to an upper-body ailment forced Cassidy’s hand with another makeshift lineup. Boston’s second, third and fourth lines failed to pick up the struggling top trio, further highlighting the ongoing secondary scoring conundrum.

The troubling scoring depth issues reared their ugly head throughout Saturday’s matinee. A lack of effort and execution ran the Bruins out of the building. The failure to pick one another up with the top line’s struggles further proved that as the top line goes, so too do the Bruins.

“I think we’re going to struggle when our top line is off,” Cassidy said during his blunt postgame press conference. “It showed that they were not in sync. The power play wasn’t in sync [either]…then you’re relying on team defense and we’ve been through this where the secondary scoring still hasn’t been there consistently enough to make up for some of those nights.”

The secondary scoring issues prompted Don Sweeney to make an internal move with Senyshyn’s recent callup. The 2015 first-rounder didn’t look out of place in an active season debut on Thursday.

Senyshyn’s arrival won’t alone solve the lack of scoring depth. The Bruins could’ve used his speed and DeBrusk’s high motor again on Saturday. But it’s clear Sweeney needs to shake things up with outside help as the April 12 trade deadline looms.

Boston’s power play short-circuited.

The Bruins leaned on the power play at times to pick up the even-strength scoring woes. At times they’ve relied on the man advantage a little too heavily around playoff time when officials tend to call fewer penalties.

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Cassidy’s bunch have freefallen outside of the top 10 in power play success rate. The man advantage became a man disadvantage with Saturday’s 0-for-5 showing.

Boston’s power play rarely gained clean entries into the attacking end. They settled for one and done’s in the rare times they established any sort of movement inside the blue-line. Their usual bread and butter on the top unit — a Pastrnak one-timer from the face-off dot or Marchand feed Bergeron in the slot from the half-wall — rarely presented itself as New York’s stoutly third-ranked shorthanded unit went to work.

The Bruins made the Rangers penalty kill look easy. That hardly resembles any recipe for success given the seemingly never-ending 5v5 scoring issues.

“They’re a pressure team on the PK, and we weren’t ready for it,” said Cassidy, who threw down his whiteboard in disgust during one of his team’s failed power play attempts. “We just weren’t ready to deal with the pressure and the execution was awfully slow.”

Jaroslav Halak deserved better.

Halak did all he could to help the Bruins. His first-period pad stop on 2021 top overall pick Alexis Lafreniere at the doorstep, in particular, became a save for the highlight reel.

Yet, the Bruins couldn’t build on any of Halak’s 29 saves. The Rangers, two nights removed from suffering a shutout, remained assertive in 1-on-1 battles along the walls and established a fluid attacking zone presence.

Through missed assignments and a lack of defensive structure, Boston’s usually stout D failed to keep the crease in front of Halak clean. The journeyman netminder did all he could, but he couldn’t lift a shorthanded Bruins defensive core — still without Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller and Jeremy Lauzon — singlehandedly.

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Of all the Bruins, Halak brought his ‘A’ game on Saturday. The rest of the team fell “further down the alphabet” in Cassidy’s terms. But Boston’s fifth-year bench boss made sure to heap praise at Halak’s direction afterward.

“What we call that is ‘A’ and ‘B’ games. You can have a ‘B’ game. You’re not always going to have your ‘A’ game, but you better bring your damn ‘B’ game, and at least do something to help the team win, whether that’s block a shot, kill a penalty, check well, etc.,” Cassidy said.

“We just didn’t have that. We were well down the alphabet after ‘A’ and ‘B’ tonight, unfortunately. That snowballs on you, and then it becomes incumbent on Jaro [Halak] to pick up the pieces, and I think he did his job as best he could.”

Halak gave the Bruins stability in net as Tuukka Rask heals from a lingering injury sustained in last Sunday’s 1-0 loss to the Devils. His recent three-game run provides one source of optimism as his team searches for consistency.

“He’s been important since the day he walked through the door, and he’s been very consistent. Tuukka has missed stretches of time and Jaro has given us solid goaltending,” Cassidy said of Halak. “He gives us a chance to win every night.”

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