A fatigued Boston Bruins squad put themselves through the proverbial wringer in their busiest stretch of the season. And the grueling schedule isn’t providing a breather anytime soon.
In midst of playing every other day and three games in four days, Bruce Cassidy’s squad, fresh off their first loss post-trade deadline, took to the ice against Sidney Crosby and a just-as-fatigued Pittsburgh Penguins bunch in a Sunday matinee. They struggled with clearing pucks out of danger at times and generating quality looks in prime scoring areas, but the Bruins didn’t put forth a porous effort by any means.
Jeremy Swayman did all he could to steal a win. But the Bruins didn’t do enough to earn two pivotal points.
Jake Guentzel’s perfect third-period one-timer off Sidney Crosby’s feed early in the third period put a struggling Boston offense in an uphill battle. Late in regulation, Patrice Bergeron received an untimely high-sticking call for the game’s only penalty, thus providing a slimmer chance of sending the game to overtime.
Where do we play? Pittsburgh, GUENTZELvania!
Did you know Pittsburgh one of just four teams this season with two 50-point players? pic.twitter.com/GOFiWV39bh
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 25, 2021
“They kept us to the outside,” Cassidy said following the 1-0 loss. “We certainly had some guys who were willing to go [to the dirty areas] and some who are refusing to go to the inside and attack the net with the puck. As a result, it limited chances [for us].”
Here’s what we learned from a tight-checking, playoff-like tilt in the Steel City:
Cassidy tries to find a spark in the bottom-six
Taylor Hall’s addition provided a much-needed spark to the top two lines. The third and fourth lines, however, haven’t produced consistency remotely similar to the top-six over the last two weeks.
Unlike the Penguins, who found themselves generating traffic in front of Swayman, the Bruins struggled to generate high-danger scoring chances. As the heavy tilt progressed, Cassidy tried to switch things up in the bottom-six hoping to find a spark.
Curtis Lazar started the afternoon on the fourth line centering Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner. He ended his day on the third line between Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle. Kuraly slid over to Lazar’s center vacancy on Line 4 with Nick Ritchie slotting in at left wing opposite Wagner.
Again, no dice.
Yes, the bottom-six fired 11 of the team’s 30 shots on net. But they hardly made Tristian Jarry work. They hardly generated any secondary scoring chances and mostly settled for one-and-dones during this heavy tilt.
“We have guys that are not producing down there, so move them around and see if you can spark them another way — so that was the reasoning,” Cassidy said of his bottom-six. “But I still feel it falls on a lot of those players to work a lot harder to attack the net, and [show] a little more will to get inside and do what it takes to score in this league. But we’ll address that tomorrow and keep preaching those points and hopefully get the desired result.”
The Bruins have the personnel capable of coming through in the clutch. Kuraly, Coyle and DeBrusk proved that theory true with timely postseason goals in the past.
Aside from Trent Fredric, the Taxi Squad doesn’t present any intriguing options to replace any of the struggling bottom-six forwards. For the most part, Cassidy looks for his current third and fourth line personnel to find a rhythm in the last couple of weeks in this unique 2021 campaign.
Swayman continues to earn his stripes
Jeremy Swayman with a nice stop on Jason Zucker.
He’s up to 15 saves today. pic.twitter.com/MhYASFcdby
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) April 25, 2021
The former University of Maine standout suffered the second loss of his young career on Sunday. The statistic is merely an outlier on Swayman’s early days as a Bruin.
Swayman has provided the Bruins a chance to win every time he’s stepped into the crease. He’s hardly allowed any softies past him in his first seven starts.
Any NHL-caliber goalie would’ve had their hands full stopping Guentzel’s one-timer in the third period. For every human moment in net, Swayman’s provided some spectacular highlight-reel stops in his young career. Because of this, he’s earning the trust of Cassidy’s coaching staff even with Jaroslav Halak’s return from COVID-19 protocol.
“Absolutely,” Cassidy said on Swayman earning another start with Halak back in the fold. “He was good. He got beat with a good shot.”
All Swayman wants to do is help the team win. He allowed one of Pittsburgh’s 29 shots to cross the painted crease on Sunday, but kept his team within striking distance.
Swayman earned his time in net as Tuukka Rask and Halak nursed an upper-body ailment and COVID diagnosis, respectively. No matter the circumstances, Cassidy’s coaching staff and a tight-knit Boston locker room deservingly put their trust in a smiling, but even-keeled Swayman.
“All I care about is helping the team win,” Swayman said. “If I can do that at the end of the day I can look myself in the mirror. But again, all I want to do is win. It’s a fun locker room to be a part of — it seriously is — and I’m just grateful for the experience.”
Hall providing a two-way presence
Don Sweeney acquired Hall from Buffalo hoping he’d find his offensive groove again. Already, the 2018 Hart Trophy winner produced more goals in his eight games with the Bruins (three) than he did during his 37-game tenure with the Sabres (two).
Perhaps we should further discuss his play away from the puck now. Because, quite frankly, it’s been just as impressive.
Earlier in the week, Hall broke up a 2-on-1 scoring chance against his former team following a Jakub Zboril turnover. The 2010 top overall selection again had to cover for a young defenseman during the first period on Sunday after a stumbling Jeremy Lauzon coughed up the puck at the blue-line.
As he made up ground on Teddy Blueger, Hall’s hustle and stellar back-check forced the Pittsburgh forward to his backhand leading to an easier stop for Swayman.
Jeremy Lauzon goes down, but Taylor Hall makes up for it with the tremendous backcheck: pic.twitter.com/oPPqBRyapD
— Evan Marinofsky (@emarinofsky) April 25, 2021
“Whatever he can do during the course of the game — sometimes it’s with the puck, sometimes it’s without,” Cassidy said of Hall’s defensive efforts following Tuesday’s 2-0 win in Buffalo. “I’m glad to see him do it.”
At his first Zoom call with the media following the trade deadline, Hall expressed a desire to ink a long-term deal with the Bruins. Between his early two-way performance and his fit within the tight-knit locker room, he’s leaving a good first impression for Boston’s brass.
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