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TORONTO — The Boston Bruins encountered a pair of negative trends in the early portion of the 2021-22 campaign: struggling on the road and against some of the more skilled teams.
Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped the Bruins to 1-4 away from TD Garden. They got off to a solid start behind Taylor Hall’s first-period power-play marker but failed to build off their early 1-0 lead.
Boston’s D struggled against Toronto’s speed, leaving Linus Ullmark out to dry more often than not. Both the power play and penalty kill entered a rut after Taylor Hall’s tally.
A borderline call on John Tavares’ first-period equalizer caught the Bruins off-guard when the puck crossed the goal-line after the moorings came off the net as Patrice Bergeron collided with the Leafs captain.
The Bruins didn’t receive the benefit of the doubt again late in the middle stanza after the officials only assessed a high-sticking minor to Brad Marchand during his exchange with Timothy Liljegren. Auston Matthews blasted his second power-play marker in a 3:55 span on a one-timer from the right faceoff dot to give Toronto a two-goal edge.
The snowball effect continued early in the third after a miscommunication between Mike Reilly and Matt Grzelcyk — caught on a long shift following another failed power-play attempt — led to Tavares’ second of the night. The Bruins lit the lamp in desperation mode on a David Pastrnak blast but couldn’t muster another comeback from 4-1 down as Mitch Marner capped off his four-point night with an empty netter.
“We’ve got to create our identity where we’re hard to play against for 60 minutes. Not 30, 20, 40, or whatever it is. It’s got to be 60 minutes,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said following the first Bruins-Leafs meeting since Nov. 15, 2019. “Then you get into their type of game where … I wouldn’t say trading chances, but it’s a bit more transition. For us, I think we needed to play more of a puck possession in our own zone and harder to play against in our end [type of game]. Some easy goals for them, which they worked for, don’t get me wrong. But we were soft on pucks where we needed to be harder.”
Here’s what we learned following the first Bruins-Maple Leafs meeting since Nov. 15, 2019.
More often than not, the Bruins were a step slow clearing pucks away from danger. The Leafs pounced on secondary scoring chances as Ullmark struggled with rebound control.
“There are definitely some goals that I want back. I felt like I should’ve stepped up a little bit more to get us the win,” Ullmark said. “Unfortunately, today wasn’t the day, and we just have to move forward.”
Even so, Ullmark provided some shining moments with a handful of timely stops. He did all he could to backstop the Bruins to victory. But with all the quality chances he faced, the ex-Sabre would’ve had to stand on his proverbial head to steal two points on this night.
The Bruins could’ve used a stronger effort from Derek Forbort on Boston’s second penalty kill of the night in a 1-on-1 situation with Marner. Forbort’s soft poke check, however, allowed Marner to regain possession and find an open Matthews for the go-ahead tally.
They could’ve used better communication between Reilly and Grzelcyk, a pair of left-shot blue-liners who hardly log 5v5 time together. A long shift at the tail end of Boston’s third power play attempt led to Tavares outmuscling Reilly to give the Leafs a 4-1 cushion.
The Ullmark-Jeremy Swayman duo provided its share of intriguing moments during the first nine games. But Boston’s defensive core hardly strung a successful run of clean games to start the year. Their defensive depth outside of Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy thus far provides more questions than answers.
Amid their frustrating defensive night, the Bruins didn’t look all that poorly in the attacking end. They certainly had their looks against Jack Campbell, primarily in desperation mode, but couldn’t capitalize on their scoring chances.
Boston’s power-play struggles added another layer of inconsistency on this night. They started well with Hall tipping Patrice Bergeron’s shot from the bumper 8:37 into Saturday’s tilt.
Hall’s tally marked Boston’s fifth power-play goal in its last seven attempts. As the game progressed, the Bruins hardly developed potency with the man-advantage, looking more like its October counterpart. A middling Leafs PK unit stymied Hall, Pastrnak, Bergeron, Marchand, and McAvoy at the blue-line, thus providing few clean entries into the attacking end.
“I thought [the power play struggles] was execution and a little bit of [being] stubborn and not going in and winning battling for [the puck],” Hall said. “We’ve had some really good power plays, and we’ve had some power plays where we look a little more disconnected. And we’re going to need to figure it out because it was a little bit of a momentum killer at times for us tonight where we weren’t able to create chances on the power play, and it kind of stalled our 5v5 game and gave them momentum.”
The Bruins went a combined 3-for-8 on special teams. Their struggles on the power play, penalty kill, and even strength accumulated toward another road loss. They really couldn’t buy a bounce from anyone inside Scotiabank Arena on this night.
With a 1-0 lead intact, the Bruins thought they had a break after Bergeron’s collision with Tavares dislodged the net before the Leafs forward tipped a Marner shot past the goal line. The officials huddled, deeming it a good goal, and confirmed the ruling after a lengthy review.
The NHL turned to rule 63.7 to issue its verdict. They stated Bergeron was the sole culprit in dislodging the net. Cassidy thought otherwise.
“They used the rule that [Bergeron] knocked the net off, which was incorrect. We didn’t knock the net off. Tavares knocked the net off,” opined Cassidy.
“I think they were looking to see if the puck crossed the line, and I couldn’t tell. I assumed it did, so that’s how that played out. It’s hard to challenge when the puck crossed the line, and we knocked the net off. That’s the reason why they allowed the continuation, which is right; that’s the rule. But the way the rule is written, it says that we knocked the net off. And Bergy certainly made contact in the crease with Tavares, but we didn’t knock the net off.”
The Bruins didn’t benefit from the rule book. They didn’t receive the benefit of the doubt in the Marchand-Liljegren exchange in the middle stanza, winding up on the penalty kill. It didn’t take long for Matthews to fire his second of the night, thus providing more agony for Cassidy and company.
Marchand had a heated exchange with referee Ian Walsh after the refs assessed him with a high-sticking minor and apparently rescinded on Lilegren’s original assessed minor (likely for roughing). But the Bruins dug themselves a hole and struggled to find their footing in their first trip to Canada since the 2020 postseason bubble.
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