By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Through 120 minutes of Bubble City Hockey, the first 60 designed for rust-shaking and the most recent 60 for playoff-seeding, the Bruins are still waiting for The Perfection Line to show signs of life.
After the trio had a noticeably bottled-up night against the Blue Jackets this past Thursday, their struggles continued in Boston's first game of round-robin tournament, with the trio quiet in another 4-1 loss, this time to the Flyers.
These struggles were familiar, too. Their chemistry seemed a step off, and their lack of an impact at even-strength play was noticeable, as the trio combined for just one shot at five-on-five. Some even suggested that this line was a "combined minus-7" by the game's end which is a really weird (and incorrect) way of saying that the members of this line were on the ice for multiple goals against.
(Actually, this itch is going to bother me for the rest of my life if I don't scratch it: Combined plus-minus is not a real thing. It's just not. If you and your friend are carrying a basket of apples together and two fall out, you have lost two apples. Not four. I feel like we all went through this in elementary school and yet... This is one of the stranger things people try to suggest is real. Like, man, they played poorly. We don't need to invent stats to hammer it home.)
Made-up, phony-baloney stats or not, the point remains: We're still waiting to see something from Boston's best.
In 16:26 of five-on-five action since touching down in The Six, the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trio has been out-attempted 18-11, outshot 8-3, out-chanced in high-danger areas 4-1. And, of course, outscored 2-0. It's been anything but perfect.
It doesn't help that we know that this line is one of the most dominant in hockey. Maybe even the best. Their body of work speaks for itself. We know they can make the opposition look silly. But the problem right now is that that extra pass isn't there, and their at-times stubborn insistence on finding that extra pass in suboptimal conditions has been a problem.
Just look at their third-period power-play opportunity; Brad Marchand collects a puck and feeds it to Krug. Krug sees David Pastrnak, who scored a league-leading 48 goals (20 of which came on the power play), open riiiight in his wheelhouse and sends it to him. But instead of firing it on net, Pastrnak sends a slap-pass that appeared to be intended to Brad Marchand towards the far post.
In the blink of an eye, Boston's most reliable offensive weapon inexplicably turned a would-be high-percentage look into a Hail Mary play, and the Bruins failed to recover or record a shot on goal on that entire power-play sequence.
The line also noticeably struggled when matched up against Philadelphia's high-powered Sean Couturier-Claude Giroux combination. When that group was out there for the Flyers, it just felt like Bergeron's line just had zero rhythm. Breaking even felt like the best case scenario. It was reminiscent of the end of last year's Stanley Cup Final, where Ryan O'Reilly's line went into overdrive and simply overpowered Boston's best to win the Stanley Cup.
But you shouldn't be at that June 2019 level of concern yet. Not when it comes to their production, their issues "pressing," or the team-wide desperation to right the ship before it's too late. I mean come on, this was the first game that actually counts.
That said, Bruce Cassidy does want to see this line change their approach until they get back to their pre-pandemic form.
“I think they should keep it simple until they find their game," Cassidy said after the loss. "That’s kind of the message — I know you’re creative and one of the best lines in the National Hockey League for a reason. So I can’t sit there and tell them they have to make this play in this scenario. I’d just like to see the whole team have more of a shot mentality.”
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 4-1 loss to the Flyers...
Charlie Coyle's line has bounce-back effort
The Bruins didn't get much from their first line -- or David Krejci's line for that matter -- but this was one hell of a bounce-back game from Charlie Coyle & Co. on the Black and Gold's third line.
After Coyle's line struggled in Thursday's exhibition, Cassidy outright said that he expected that the group would have a stronger puck-possession game in their next outing, and he was bang-on on that front.
In 13:07 of five-on-five action with Coyle on the ice, the Bruins controlled attempts at a 69.2 percentage clip, and out-chanced Philadelphia 10-4. And the line, which featured Anders Bjork and Karson Kuhlman on the wings, thrived in their time together, with Bjork drawing two power-play chances on offensive zone entries and the line finishing with a 15-4 advantage in attempts.
It's going to be interesting to see how Cassidy tinkers with this line as we draw closer to the postseason.
In Phase 3, Cassidy seemed extremely interested in beefing up that line with Sean Kuraly and Nick Ritchie as its wingers. Load 'em up with Coyle and you're talking about a line that will dominate the puck and win every battle imaginable. Cassidy mentioned exactly that, too, saying he wanted to build a strong, puck possession-focused line below Bergeron and Krejci.
Bjork and Kuhlman do not necessarily fit that mold when you think "stronger." In fact, they're much closer to the duo Coyle had with him (Danton Heinen and Marcus Johansson) during the 2019 playoffs. But if Sunday was any indication, it's a trio that may work wonders once the first and second line get their act straightened out.
Any complaints about Rask not playing are laughably stupid
This column is full of me scratching itches I should know better than to bother with in 2020, but hey, it's been four and a half months since we all argued, so let's keep it rolling...
If you're somehow complaining about Tuukka Rask not playing through his illness to get into this game, you are actively choosing to live your life as a dummy of the highest order.
Now, I get it: The 2014 Olympics, the 2016 season finale. Migraines in Pittsburgh. The leave of absence. By now, you think you got a read on Rask 'bailing' when his team needs him the most. You've built a pretty good case. But let's provide some crucial context to your latest case for hating a better-than-most goaltender: This is, uh, a global pandemic. If a player is sick for absolutely any reason, he's not going to be allowed near the team. Period. End of story. That's it.
And if you're the Bruins and playing for postseason seeding, why in the world would you encourage a player to battle through this and potentially infect the rest of the team with a sickness, even if it's not COVID-19? To show how big your stones are after prior illnesses and last year's dud of a finish? To dispel talk-radio narratives?
On Aug. 2, and with the Bruins hoping to live life in a bubble for the next two months, that's simply not worth it, and anybody should be able to see that.
Then again, I stopped expecting rational thought with this beaten-to-death topic a long time ago.
P.S., you've all told everybody who thinks Rask isn't a terrible human being that Jaroslav Halak is just as capable and should be the starter, so you really shouldn't be complaining about Rask opting out of another big game. Right? Right?! RIGHT?!
(I hate this stupid debate. It's why I'm gonna die at 29.)
It doesn't get any easier from here, but reinforcements should be on the way
If you were playing the odds, you probably considered Sunday's tilt with the Flyers to be the most winnable of Boston's three-game round-robin slate. After this, they have matchups with the Lightning and Capitals. Reminder: Tampa has taken six of their last eight meetings with the Bruins and the Capitals have captured wins in 16 of their last 18 head-to-heads with Boston. So, again, just playing the odds, the B's odds of capturing the No. 1 seed probably took a significant hit on Sunday.
But the good news for the Bruins is that help should be on the way.
Assuming Rask is healthy enough to play on Wednesday, the Bruins will get their 2019-20 Vezina finalist back in the crease, and deadline additions Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase both participated in Saturday's practice, which seemingly bodes well for their potential return to play later this week.
Sports Hub Sidelines Podcast
Ty Anderson and Matt Dolloff did a bonus episode of the Sports Hub Sidelines podcast to give their immediate postgame thoughts on the Bruins' loss to the Flyers. Have a listen below.