The Boston Bruins developed a troubling habit of late.
For the second time in less than 48 hours, the Bruins relinquished a 2-0 lead during Saturday’s Original Six matchup with the Detroit Red Wings. But unlike Thursday, where they traded multiple chances against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the B’s looked out of sorts in multiple facets.
Without Derek Forbort, Boston’s top-ranked penalty kill allowed a pair of power-play goals. They looked a tad better offensively, with a gritty goal by James van Riemsdyk, a highlight-reel marker from Matthew Poitras, and a doorstep tally from Charlie Coyle.
Even with a 3-2 lead, the Bruins looked like a team that was fighting an uphill battle. Their defensive coverage wasn’t as structured in front of Linus Ullmark. The outlet feeds weren’t accurate. They were a step slower in puck pursuit in the open ice and along the walls.
Eventually, the Bruins unraveled, giving up a trio of goals in the final 20.
Dylan Larkin turned Parker Wotherspoon inside out to tie the game at 3-3 at 6:50 of the third.
After whiffing on his initial attempt, David Perron followed through with a bit of puck luck to notch the go-ahead tally just 2:06 later.
Andrew Copp buried a rebound after J.T. Compher hit the crossbar to give the Red Wings an insurance tally a mere 1:38 after Perron’s third of the season.
David Pastrnak pulled the Bruins within one with his power play snipe with 5:49 left in regulation. But a pair of borderline calls — a Pastrnak trip and a hold on Coyle — in the final moments of regulation sealed Detroit’s 5-4 victory.
“They worked hard tonight. They really wanted that win, and we had stretches where we didn’t play our best hockey,” defenseman Hampus Lindholm said to the media. “We fought back. We stood up for each other, and we were in it until the end … It shows a lot of character, but there’s a tough line between winning and losing in this league.”
Here’s what we learned from Boston’s first regulation loss of the season.
Defensive lapses put the Bruins on their heels.
The Bruins embarked on their second game without three of their regulars from the blue line. Somehow, they ended with a 1-1 mark.
Unlike Thursday’s matchup, the Bruins struggled to break pucks out of their defensive end without two of their reliable tempo setters in Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk.
Detroit generated heavy traffic in front of Ullmark, resulting in quality primary looks and secondary scoring chances. The Bruins struggled with possessing the puck in their own end, resulting in lengthy shifts for a banged-up D core.
“When you’re missing the defensemen that we’re missing, it would’ve made an impact in our poise to break pucks out and our poise to defend our own net,” Montgomery told reporters.
Between the frequent power plays and the defensive lapses, the Bruins struggled to establish any rhythm following Poitras’ eye-opening tally at 9:28 of the opening frame. At that point, they held a 12-6 advantage in shots on net.
The Red Wings outshot the Bruins 33-18 following Poitras’ marker. And while Ullmark struggled with rebounds and puck tracking at times, the reigning Vezina winner battled and did everything he could to keep his team afloat.
“I thought Linus had to make a lot of good saves, especially on the power plays that they had,” Montgomery said. “We thought he was on top of his game, but we just gave up too many glorious chances.”
The penalty kill entered chase mode.
The Bruins were on the wrong end of a few borderline penalties Saturday, beginning in the first when Larkin sold an interference call on Brandon Carlo. Questionable officiating aside, Boston’s top-ranked penalty kill encountered its first rough outing of the season.
Without their shorthanded specialist in Forbort, the Bruins relinquished two goals against a lethal Detroit power play. One of the tallies came with Carlo, the other reliable penalty killer on the back end, in the box after Mason Raymond notched his fourth goal of the season at 16:20 of the opening frame.
The Red Wings seamlessly transitioned into their power-play setup, allowing for quicker puck movement to open up shooting lanes. The Bruins had entered chase mode but almost returned to form in the second after killing off their first two shorthanded attempts.
They nearly killed off three in a row during the middle frame. But Jake Walman’s blast in the final second of Detroit’s third second-period power play attempt marked one of Saturday’s turning points.
“When you play with an excellent power play like Detroit, you can’t take [penalties] … I don’t know if we were shorthanded seven or eight times, but that’s too many,” Montgomery said of Boston’s penalty kill.
The eight attempts on the penalty kill marked a season-high. But Saturday’s setback provides the transitional Bruins with another opportunity to grow and learn on the fly.
The Bruins embrace the growing pains.
At this time last year, the Bruins became a well-oiled machine.
This year, they’ve encountered some growing pains without two of their top centermen in franchise history. Yet, as they continue to play to their identity, this year’s Bruins embarked on a similar 11-game run from last year.
Boston’s offensive production remains a work in progress, especially with their secondary scoring. But they’re beginning to establish a gritty, hard-nosed system from the net out.
Even with their success, the transitional Bruins know similar nights to Saturday await.
“We’re a young team, and we’ve got a lot of guys who are playing different minutes even within our group. Those minutes add up, and you just have to get used to it,” Montgomery told reporters. “I think we’re going to see more of this than what we would’ve seen last year, just because of our group.”
At 9-1-1, the Bruins provided signs of encouragement, like Poitras and Mason Lohrei’s early growth, and concern, specifically with Montgomery’s lineup changes and struggling to close out games after relinquishing multi-goal leads in three of their last five games.
The challenges will continue as Montgomery searches for his ideal lineup. But as they did under Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and the countless leaders of yesteryear, the Bruins embrace whatever obstacles they face.
“I think with us and with every other team, you build chemistry with your linemates and your D partners. You start to mesh well as a group and then you recognize where guys are going to be on the ice a little bit more,” Carlo said to the press. “We’re fully expecting teams to come with us a little bit more. We love that challenge. I think that’s something that will prepare us later on to be better, so we embrace that with every opportunity.”