By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Powered by a dominant first line and versatile top-pairing, the Bruins were the league’s second-best possession club in the regular season. In addition to owning the puck at even-strength, the Bruins successfully and consistently generated some of the league’s best scoring chances, and noticeably limited those thrown against their goaltending tandem.
With all that in mind, it’s not hard to see why the Bruins find themselves in a 2-1 hole against the Lightning heading into Friday’s Game 4 meeting at TD Garden.
Through three games of their second-round series against the Lightning, Boston’s five-on-five possession percentage ranks last among the remaining eight teams, with a 42.86 Corsi-For percentage. In regards to just how bad that is, consider the fact that no team had a percentage that low this season; the Rangers were the closest, at 45.92 percent.
This is a maddening figure to look at because it’s really nothing that Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has done to the Bruins — if anything, he appears to be the Bolts’ weak link and downright shaky at times — but rather an active defense full of long reaches and quick transition talents that snuff out everything thrown their way. Take a look at the reach and mobility of a Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, and Mikhail Sergachev and it’s easy to see the Bruins’ problems, as they’ve often been forced to cede possession with dump-in plays into the attacking zone.
“It’s shown up in the shots and the chances, and with a good team like Tampa Bay, if you’re chasing ‘em… it’s problematic,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy assessed after Thursday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “The last two games, we need the puck more. Part of that is on us. You gotta be harder on it. It’s hockey, right? We gotta win more pucks. It’s basic, but if we don’t, then we better be structurally very, very sound and not give up any second chances.”
That, as it turns out, has also been part of the problem.
Generating just 53 scoring chances at five-on-five, the Bruins have surrendered 71 chances against Tuukka Rask. That scoring chance percentage (42.74 percent) is also worst among eight remaining teams. A regular-season relation to that kind of percentage would put the Black and Gold in the same territory as the Senators and Canucks. Woof.
“Unfortunately, the other night, there were some [changes against] from the front of the net,” Cassidy acknowledged. “They scored their second and third goal [because] they beat us to the good ice. And our team has done that well all year, is defend there, so if we’re not gonna win pucks, we better be hard in front of [our] net.”
Even the simplest of metrics that’s made the Bruins one of the league’s best teams — the Bruins were the 11th-best team in the league this season at winning draws — has gone out the window this series; In fact, Riley Nash is the only center winning more than 50 percent of his draws this series, at 57.6 percent. Patrice Bergeron is at 48.6 percent (he’s won 34 of his 70 faceoffs) and David Krejci is clicking at just 36.1 percent (wins in 13 of 36). As a team, the B’s enter Game 4 with a 45.8 faceoff percentage this round. Again, that number is the worst among any team still skating.
This isn’t news to any Boston skater. But it has been something that’s been a little jarring, to say the least.
Circle back to a sequence in the third period of Wednesday’s Game 3 defeat; Bergeron was looking to generate the breakout out from along the wall to the right of Rask. But pressured by a one-man forecheck and without options up ahead of him, Bergeron was forced to ditch it back, where the puck was corralled by Rask. Bergeron said that it was a play that went awry — saying that he meant to move the puck to Torey Krug — but it’s also a testament to everything that’s gone wrong for the Bruins just 180 minutes into this second-round showdown.
The simple plays have become complicated, the mistakes have become glaring (and often lead to goals against), and the options have been completely taken away by a Lightning squad that always seems to have numbers.
“Our decisions on what’s coming at us in the forecheck have to be better,” Cassidy offered. “I think there’s some times where [the Lightning] have been aggressive with two guys [on the forecheck] where we can get it moving in a hurry, win a battle on the wall and hopefully get something going where we’ve hung onto it and other times where we’ve thrown it away when there’s one guy coming [in on the forecheck], [and] maybe a little reverse away from pressure would have been better. Some of those are reads. We gotta make better ones.
“But give them credit, they’re forechecking well, they’re reloading well.”
Suffice to say, the Bruins know what they need to do to get back into this series.
Said Cassidy: “They outworked us [Wednesday]. We have to match that [in Game 4].”
“We have to defend harder, have more urgency, they have a lot of quick skilled forwards good at changing direction behind the net and stuff like that,” Matt Grzelcyk said. “Have to have more intensity, we’ll have that for Game 4.”
Having the puck more — or even just a little bit — would go a long way, too.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.