By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It's now been 173 minutes and 38 seconds (and counting) since the Bruins scored a goal off a stick that didn't belong to Patrice Bergeron or David Pastrnak. And that goal, scored by Joakim Nordstrom in the first period of last Saturday's home opener against the Devils, was really created off a puck that bounced off Chris Wagner's ass and was there for the taking.
At this point, the Bruins would take another butt-bump if it meant getting a goal from the other 16 skaters.
"We win the game, right if we get secondary scoring from anybody," Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said after Boston's 4-3 shootout loss to the Lightning on Thursday night. "I think we’re stating the obvious saying that."
Secondary scoring has been a myth. And since the opening five and a half minutes of the 2019-20 season, really, when Brett Ritchie and Danton Heinen (on the power play) scored on Boston's first two shots of the season. The numbers stare the B's in the face, too: Boston has a league-high seven forwards who have played at least 75 five-on-five minutes but skate with zero goals to their name. Their even-strength shooting percentage, meanwhile, trails only the Flyers for the worst in the NHL. Jake DeBrusk, Charlie Coyle, and Karson Kuhlman headline a list of players whose efforts have been there in terms of possession and chances, but with a finish taking you back to the maddening moments that spelled the end for the Bruins last June.
There's funks and there's what this club is currently dealing with.
But just seven games into the year, the Bruins are confident that their game is going to come around.
"There's a ton of hockey left," Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy noted. "We'll find it."
The Bruins could also learn a thing or two from the Pastrnak, who has a league-best eight goals following another multi-goal performance on Boston ice, and with six goals in total in his last two games.
"He’s around the net, right? So, it’s a good lesson: Get there," Cassidy said. "He’s not only scoring one way, he’s certainly finding some pucks on the elbow on the power play, but that’s by design. I mean, we have a power play, we have set plays. But some of the other ones, he’s getting to the net, finding loose pucks, recovering pucks. He’s getting rewarded for his work."
But the rest of the Bruins are going to have to put in that work for the rewards to follow.
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 4-3 shootout loss in Boston...
Cassidy rolls fourth line as shutdown line
It's nothing new by now, but the Bruins once again opted to use the fourth line of Sean Kuraly, Joakim Nordstrom, and Chris Wagner as their go-to shutdown line against the Lightning's high-powered first line of Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. (Tampa made that line even better for this season, too, with Brayden Point joining the line to make it a one-two-three punch.)
It was almost an exclusive with the way Cassidy stuck that line on Tampa's best throughout regulation.
This was an idea that Cassidy first seemed to truly embrace late in the 2017-18 season, when the line featured Tim Schaller and Noel Acciari as Kuraly's wingers. The line held their own, and really seemed to get under the skin of Tampa Bay's top shooting threats, creating on-ice scuffles and second-thoughts when it came to offensive looks.
And though the faces to the right and left of Kuraly have changed, this line (and team as a whole, really) has done an excellent job of frustrating Kucherov on Boston ice. Over his last eight games in Boston -- regular season and playoff games alike -- the uber-talented Russian has just two goals and five points. One of those goals, mind you, was off a brutal non-call that allowed Kucherov to haul Charlie McAvoy down and then snipe a goal through Tuukka Rask. When you're talking about a player that's torched the league at a ridiculous rate over that span, you'll take that limited production every time it's there.
Especially if it takes him out of rhythm as it appears to have from watching the game six floors up.
Kuraly noted that that's something that is probably noticed more from above than on the ice, of course, but he did reveal a mindset that certainly seems to make that line a threat against any and all competition.
"We don't want them to feel good about themselves," said Kuraly.
Are we nearing the end of the Brett Ritchie experiment?
Brett Ritchie started his Boston career off with a bang, as he scored on first shot of the season, and just 69 seconds into the new campaign. But Ritchie has been a complete non-factor since, with zero points and 10 shots in the 63:36 that's followed. It's not just that he's struggled to make an impact, too, but that he's seemingly made lines worse when on the ice.
This isn't his fault; I've maintained the belief that Ritchie is more Acciari than he is Marcus Johansson. Believing he's the latter is only going to lead to Jimmy Hayes levels of frustration on your second and third lines. But you have to wonder how much longer the Bruins can try to force this banger into a scorer's role, especially with the team shooting blanks with the league's worst, and with Cassidy noticeably frustrated with his team's inability to create at five-on-five beyond the first line.
Just in case you're wondering, Anders Bjork has three goals and six points through five games with the P-Bruins. Providence coach Jay Leach has kept Bjork on the left side out of the gate -- the Bruins did this in training camp with the belief that it allows Bjork, a left shot, to attack from a stronger position -- so he's not a direct Ritchie (or David Backes) replacement. But the B's options with the versatile Danton Heinen make Bjork a more viable option with each passing day.
Quickies on a shootout
An old hockey mind once told me you're never supposed to get too high or too low after a shootout. It's probably the best advice anybody's given me since I was told to not drink my calories at a rate that would kill me at 28. Even as a straight edge "adult" (a belated happy Edge Day to all my friends). That seems especially true when talking about a shootout with Tampa.
One thing that I did like about this shootout? The Bruins opted to shoot second. I look at this from a baseball perspective: You always want to have the last chance at victory. This idea that you wanna score first to put "pressure" on the opposition has always been silly to me. It's a one-on-one skills competition. There's pressure on every chance.
Another thought: Got a lot of questions as to why wasn't Bergeron put in the shootout.
Well, as potent as No. 37 has been as a scorer over the last few years, shootouts have remained a fickle thing for the Boston center. He's scored just three shootout goals in 23 attempts. That 13 percent success rate is the lowest among any active Bruins (Zdeno Chara is 0-for-1, but that's an extremely limited sample size we're talking here), and it's the worst percentage among all NHLers with at least 20 shootout attempts since the start of the 2014-15 season.
Tampa Bay might be even better than they were last year
I did a pregame hit with Tampa Bay Lightning radio before Thursday's game, and we discussed an interesting question: Would you rather be the Bruins coming off losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final or the Lightning coming off a record-setting season as the league's top team only to get swept in the first round?
I suppose it all comes down to what you believe in (and the banners you prefer to display in your arena), but I sort of lean Lightning here. Thursday, as well as Tampa Bay's offseason maneuvering, only helped solidify that belief for me.
Start with their offseason; In need of a 'winning' injection, the Lightning added Patrick Maroon and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk on low-risk, high-reward contracts. They also didn't lose a single piece of their young, locked, and loaded core. And watching this team up close last night, you immediately notice how this Tampa team can still attack you in so many different ways, and you almost forget about some of their bottom-six talent until they pop you in the mouth.
Another reason: The Lightning, who had played a ton of hockey over the last four years behind deep postseason runs, do not have the wear-and-tear that the Bruins are going to have to deal with when the calendar flips to 2020. It's basically like starting a fresh. Not that this team really needed to do that, if we're going off their recent history.