The effort was there. The results weren’t.
Monday’s 4-1 loss to the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins provided another instance to justify Don Sweeney’s need to shake things up with his Boston Bruins squad.
Bruce Cassidy’s bunch outshot the Penguins, 43-26. The Bruins looked far more crisper in the attacking end compared to Saturday’s 4-0 setback to the New York Rangers. They struck first on Matt Grzelcyk’s power play blast from the point. They remained assertive offensively after Jaroslav Halak allowed a pair of soft goals late in the first period to Evan Rodrigues and Sidney Crosby.
These may provide some building blocks as the two teams meet again Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena. Yet, the ongoing 5v5 struggles and secondary scoring conundrum continue to rear their ugly head.
Here’s what we learned after Pittsburgh’s sixth straight win and Boston’s seventh loss in its last 10 games.
Bruins don’t return the favor for Halak
That’s the Evan Rodrigues knuckle puck. It drives goalies crazy. pic.twitter.com/nkGiGMECMo
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 16, 2021
With Tuukka Rask still nursing a lingering injury sustained in the March 7 loss to the lowly New Jersey Devils, the Bruins turned to Halak for his lengthiest run of starts this season. Halak did everything he could to keep his team in striking distance in the shootout loss to the Islanders. He followed that up with a shutout against the Rangers. But his teammates left him out to dry two days later in an uninspiring loss to the same Blueshirts bunch.
Halak didn’t have his sharpest outing in his fourth straight start. His glove malfunction on Rodrigues’ second tally of the season and soft goal on Crosby’s bad-angle shot put the Bruins in catchup mode a mere 1:43 apart late in the opening stanza.
The Bruins encountered some lags in scoring chances in the second period. They still generated quality opportunities in the final 40 minutes, only to run into a hot goalie in Tristian Jarry (42 saves). An untimely roughing penalty by Connor Clifton and Evgeni Malkin’s ensuing power play midway through the middle stanza put a struggling Boston bunch further behind.
Surely they could’ve used another save or two from Halak (22 saves) in that opening stanza. But Halak’s teammates couldn’t pick him up following his hiccups.
No angle? No problem.
Just Sidney Crosby things. pic.twitter.com/sZkfu7ydRx
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 15, 2021
“He wasn’t good in the first period, and he’s played a lot of hockey for us lately — a lot of good hockey — so you have to pushback, right?” Cassidy said. “I mean, he’s bailed us out a ton of times. So, in a 2-1 game, you feel like you came in and at least played as well as they have — if not better — so you keep pushing.
“Where I’m disappointed is we got away from our game in the second period in terms of playing forward against a team that can really skate. We brought pucks back, and then Clifton has to take a penalty because of that, and they scored. Now the game is two goals…and then some things go through your head again.”
The Penguins aim for their seventh straight win on Tuesday. Halak will earn a much-needed break, paving the way for either Jeremy Swayman or Dan Vladar.
Swayman and Vladar provide quality goaltending depth in the pipeline, yet they’re about to enter a tough situation. The Bruins hope to carry over their effort — with a different result — and ease their tensions.
Grzelcyk’s attacking presence helps him turn a corner
Pittsburgh’s D layered up in front of Jarry amidst Boston’s steady offensive pressure. With the net-front area clogged up, the Bruins used space from the point to generate primary and secondary scoring opportunities.
Grzelcyk pounced on the open space en route to a game-high eight shots on net. His power play marker — and first goal of the season — gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead 6:47 in.
Matt Grzelcyk fires one home on the power play.
Bruins lead, 1-0. pic.twitter.com/nTJP6ng0TQ
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) March 15, 2021
Grzelcyk’s work ethic helped him turn a corner after battling the injury bug on multiple occasions over the first couple of months. In 21:20 of ice time — third-most among all Bruins — the former Boston University captain provided a little silver lining during the losing effort.
“I feel pretty confident,” Grzelcyk said of his post-injury performances. “I feel my legs are there — I’m a much better player when I’m able to skate. You know, I’m just trying to make plays, give [the puck] to our forwards and let them go to work. I thought we got off to a nice start in having more of an attack mentality, so that’s encouraging to see for sure.”
Grzelcyk’s poise provided a bright spot. As a whole, the Bruins desperately need a confidence boost.
No panic within the Bruins’ locker room yet
The Bruins sat alone atop the East Division following a 10-1-2 start. Their 4-7-3 run since dropped them to fourth. Now they hold a mere one-point edge over the fifth-place Philadelphia Flyers for the final playoff spot.
Their effort against the Penguins is often good enough to end with at least one point on any given night. A streaking Pens bunch earned a few breaks on a night where Malkin tallied his 1100th career point. Meanwhile, the Bruins can’t buy a bounce right now.
Sweeney desperately needs to address the lingering issues. The Bruins have scored the third-fewest 5v5 goals scored with 41 — tied with the Nashville Predators — trailing only the Dallas Stars and lowly Buffalo Sabres.
The tight-knit Bruins have faith in their locker room to overcome this rough stretch. The injury bug and offensive struggles are front and center during this slump. But let’s face it, they would’ve needed scoring help and even a blue-line upgrade even with a full or near healthy lineup.
Amidst all the makeshift lineups and a thin margin for error on a nightly basis, Brad Marchand still believes in this bunch. Even with their blunders against the Penguins, the veteran winger remains hopeful that similar efforts like Monday’s will eventually turn into positive results.
“It does feel like every mistake is going in our net, but that just means we have to clean up our game a little bit,” Marchand said. “When things aren’t going well and you’re not scoring the way you want to, you almost have to play mistake-free hockey. But we had a much better effort tonight. If we play like that again, then hopefully we have a much better result.”
An impatient Boston fanbase may not fully echo Marchand’s sentiment. But the Bruins established a foundation against Crosby and company. They hope to leave Pittsburgh with a needed win on Tuesday before traveling to Buffalo for a pair against the bottom-feeding Sabres.
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