A few weeks ago, after (I think) Game 3 of the first round, I did a phoner with a radio show in Boston.
The Bruins had just lost Game 3, 3-2 plus a garbage-time goal when the Bruins were pressing to tie it. The question put to me was something along the lines of, “What should Bruce Cassidy do here?”
The answer — apparently unsatisfactory to the host — was that there wasn’t much to do. Sometimes you do things right and lose hockey games because it’s an incredibly random sport. If the Bruins kept their lineup, lines and approach more or less as-is, they would eventually prevail over the Maple Leafs over a long enough timeline.
They did, in fact. Both teams in that series were pretty good, the Bruins slightly better, and the aggregate scoreline of 27-19 (once empty netters are excluded) felt just about right, especially after the Bruins scored 12 goals in the first two games of the series.
Tampa, however, has posed a much more significant threat to the B’s. That’s to be expected because the Lightning are a better, deeper team than the Leafs, with more high-end talent to boot, but the same was supposed to be true of the Bruins. Apart from Game 1, when they looked pretty good but perhaps more of a function of Tampa looking pretty bad, Boston has been rather mediocre.
At 5-on-5, the disparity couldn’t be clearer: When even one of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, or David Pastrnak (or any combination thereof) are on the ice, the Bruins have a heavy edge in most statistical categories. Those three, together or separated, are plus-6 in shot attempts, which is fine but not ideal. When all of them are off the ice, they are minus-55. In three games!
And that kind of stark difference is seen just about everywhere, but perhaps the most illuminating stat is this one: The Bruins have just one goal in all situations when Pastrnak isn’t on the ice, and Marchand and Bergeron manufactured it without him. (To be fair, Pastrnak also scored a goal with neither of his regular linemates on the ice.)
This is not really a new thing in this postseason. When the Bergeron line is on the ice throughout these playoffs, they look unstoppable, scoring 16 goals and conceding only 10 (and 11-7 at 5-on-5), but when literally any other combination of Bruins is on the ice, things get a lot uglier: 21 goals for and 20 against. Still not bad, but barely breaking even across 10 games is no way to go through life.
That’s especially true in this series, though, as Tampa has a 10-9 edge in goals, but the breakdown gets a lot worse with Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak off the ice. Indeed, the Bruins have been outscored 5-0 with none of the three on.
That is, I guess, to be expected when you’re spending so much time in your own zone, but if this song and dance feels familiar for the Bruins, that’s because it is. After all, coming into the season there wasn’t a lot to be optimistic about offensively for this club, at least beyond that top line. All the guys who had big offensive years kinda sorta did so as a nice surprise, right? David Krejci missed a good chunk of the year but scored at a 60-point pace. David Backes was in the 50-point range. Riley Nash clearing 40 was a bit of a shocker. Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk were pleasant surprises as well. The Bruins probably had 10 guys who would have cleared 40 points if they’d been healthy all year, but before the start of the season you might have realistically put the number at half that many.
Because remember, the Bruins got Claude Julien fired last season not because they weren’t playing dominant hockey, but because they weren’t burying the huge share of the scoring chances they enjoyed. And now, they don’t even have the “bad luck” excuse to fall back on. They just have “bad.”
You can probably argue, too, that it starts from the center out. David Krejci now suddenly seems completely overwhelmed by the matchup problems posed by the Miller-Stamkos-Kucherov line (understandably so), but to the extent that Cassidy has to get him away from that matchup. Ondrej Palat and Co. have been a wrecking ball of their own, but Bergeron has to be hard-matched against the Stamkos group just to stop the bleeding. Take your chances elsewhere!
Meanwhile, since his return from injury, Riley Nash has been, shall we say, horrible. He had a low-key great season for the Bruins and before the injury in the playoffs looked pretty good, but when you’re getting your lunch eaten by Ryan Callahan and Chris Kunitz, it’s like, “Maybe reevaluate something.” I don’t know that Cassidy can get him out of the lineup just because it’s not like they have a reliable middle-six center just sitting around not doing anything, but here, too, they have to figure something out.
Yesterday in practice DeBrusk and Marchand took maintenance days, and while you obviously wouldn’t touch the top line, they slotted Ryan Donato into DeBrusk’s spot alongside Krejci, and isn’t that interesting! I would be extremely amenable to some sort of move that pushes DeBrusk alongside Riley Nash to stabilize that line a bit and also puts Krejci with two guys who just shoot the puck extremely effectively even if they are limited in other capacities (i.e. they don’t really push possession themselves).
Everyone has to be better, for sure. That includes Cassidy, who definitely has a part to play in a lot of these, and lineup adjustments (both in terms of personnel and configuration) are in order to perhaps goose things back in the right direction. There’s not a lot to lose as long as you make sure the Big Three stick together, because things can’t really go much worse for everyone else.
There probably aren’t a lot of thrilling or surprising answers here for the Bruins. Torey Krug needs to stop getting his ass handed to him. They need to maybe try killing a penalty in this series. The whole team needs to stop getting outshot 10-0 to start the games.
But most of all, they need literally anyone who isn’t on that top line to maybe try putting the puck in the net. These are just some ideas I had. Let me know what you think.
All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise. Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.
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