By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
There's one message Bruce Cassidy has preached again and again (and again) throughout his Bruins tenure: "Start on time." I'm pretty sure it's been tattooed on the chest of every Bruins player, coach, and staffer.
And starts have not been a problem for the Bruins through their first six games of the year.
Boston has scored first in every head-to-head out of the gate with the exception of their meeting with the Vegas Golden Knights; Cassidy's squad found themselves in a 2-0 hole to begin that game, but they erased that deficit before the end of the first period, and in just 10:38 thanks to a pair of goals from their first line, and went on to win by a 4-3 final. The Bruins have also excelled in getting on the board in the first period, with a league-high 10 first-period goals through their first six games of the new campaign. They've come quickly, too. Brett Ritchie scored Boston's first goal of the year 69 seconds into the year, David Pastrnak put the B's up 1-0 before the 10-minute mark of their loss to the Avalanche, and they've had a 1-0 edge within the first four and a half minutes in both of their home contests (both victories) to date.
But it's the middle that could use a lot of work.
And after what was perhaps their most reckless middle frame to date -- the Bruins were outshot 16-6, surrendered multiple odd-man rushes, and were sent to the penalty kill three times in the second period of Monday's head-to-head with the visiting Ducks -- the B's know it needs to be fixed.
As soon as possible.
"We do have to correct it," Cassidy admitted after Monday's 4-2 win over the Ducks. "[Monday] was an exceptionally poor second period. We’ve had some stretches, in Dallas and Arizona, where we’ve had the lead, but [Monday] was probably the worst of our leads where we just sort of lost our urgency all over the ice."
This wasn't exclusive to Monday's survival mode second period against Anaheim. In fact, the Bruins have found themselves downright blitzed in the second period through six games this year. They have been outshot 77-58, surrendered 33 high-danger chances (while generating just 16 of their own), and posted a Corsi-For percentage of 46.7 percent in 120 all-situation minutes of second period play. (Monday was rock bottom in terms of chances and shots against, as the B's surrendered 16 shots and 12 high-danger chances against the Ducks in the second period. They were by all means saved by a Hampus Lindholm turnover that Brad Marchand and Pastrnak put through John Gibson and Halak's miracle-working in net.)
The Bruins also find themselves in a 12-way tie for the second-fewest second-period goals scored this season, with four. Only the Coyotes, who have scored just three second-period goals (they've also only played four games, so that's a definite factor in their total), have been worse when it comes to scoring between the 20:01-40:00 frame. Boston has also seen 10 of their 20 minor penalties (nine if you exclude matching penalties) through the first six games come in the second period, too.
These numbers are a far cry from what the Bruins have achieved in the first and third periods of play this year. I mean, take out their second periods, and the Bruins have controlled all-situation possession at 51.2 percent, and kept pace in shots (they've been outshot 120-119 and trail by just one in high-danger chances, 34-33) this season. It's practically day and night.
The only thing that's routinely saved the Bruins from these downright dreadful second period showings has been some all-world netminding, as the Halak and Tuukka Rask tandem's posted a .961 save percentage in six second periods to date.
Outside of the net, it's been pretty damn ugly for the Bruins in this respect.
But most of all, it's not sustainable, and Cassidy is still trying to figure out what exactly is haunting the Bruins in period two.
"We’ve got to get a little more into work mode in those second periods," Cassidy said. "It’s early in the year, maybe are we thinking it’s going to be an easy game? Are we not ready for the pushback to a certain extent because we’ve had the leads?"
Cassidy rightly noted the expected pushback when you score first like the Bruins routinely have this season. That's going to happen. Especially when every opponent is still looking for that tone-setting early-season victory and still has their legs. But when it comes to the structure -- or lack thereof -- the Bruins know they're playing with fire that can't always be saved.
In every sense of the word.
"We’ll keep working on why we couldn’t execute. Breakouts are a big problem for us the last two games. Is it the other teams’ forecheck, is it talent, what is it? I don’t think it’s talent. I’ve seen us be good in that area a lot, so we’ve got to get ourselves -- our puck support or just urgency -- dialed in. It’s probably both to be honest with you."