By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
For the first five weeks of the season, the Bruins looked like the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, playing like a team that had the Game 7 Stanley Cup Final loss at TD Garden last June against the St. Louis Blues serving as the blow torch to their undercarriage on a mission for redemption.
While their point production from their forwards remained uncomfortably top-heavy – which was the biggest reason they had to watch the Blues party like it was 1999 on Causeway Street just months ago – their depth on defense seemed to be as good as any in the NHL and the goaltending tandem of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak was seemingly unbeatable on any given night.
What a difference a couple of weeks make, eh?
“This is a team that’s closed out games for years, and the last goal to me…put everything else aside…is disappointing. We get beat one-on-one off the rush, winger circling out of the scoring area knowing the game is on the line. You could sit here and argue that the guy’s holding Bergy’s [Patrice Bergeron] stick and can’t clear the puck at the end, but structurally we were bad on that last goal,” said a clearly pissed off B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy after his team puked on their shoes in the third period. “That’s the disappointing part to me. That’s when we’re usually rock solid.
“It’s a strength of our team to close out games. I think we had a perfect record of, you know, we had a lead going into the third period. It’s a trademark of this team. Yeah, it is a concern. Part of it is goaltending, part of it is staying out of the [penalty box]. You mismanage pucks by giving them odd-man rushes, you take penalties by putting them on the power play — we did a little bit of both. You don’t tighten up and protect the slot because typically D are activating, so if you take care of that, you’re going back the other way and you have a chance to sort of finish the job. We didn’t do any of those things very well.”
What the Black and Gold’s bench boss didn’t say – even if he likely has told his listing team by now – is that they are not as good as their scorching start to the season made them look, and they are not as porous as the past couple of weeks has exposed them as.
Much like a year ago, this top-heavy group of forwards has leaned on the top line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak to an absurd extent. On several occasions when the team was riding high as an almost direct result of the best line in hockey, Cassidy himself was quick to point this out.
And now that the goaltending has clearly taken a step back – leading to yet another opportunity for the Tuukka Rask critics to come out of the woodwork – and the defense has become deficient in crucial moments during their recent struggles, the warts that prevented a Duck Boat parade through downtown Boston late last June have once again surfaced.
To call the current four-game losing streak – two of which came in the shootout at home (3-2 to the Flyers and 5-4 to the Panthers) – a crisis as some of those who cover the team have done recently is frankly an overreach.
However, to dismiss the obvious defects to the roster general manager Don Sweeney has assembled this season, so far, would be just much of a mistake.
The Bruins fast start afforded them to go through what was likely an unavoidable stretch in the 82-game regular season that the NHL schedule imposes upon almost every team across the league. It should also be a bit of a wake up to the B’s brass that there is a reason that they left the Garden without the Stanley Cup late last spring.