By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Boston Bruins are 129:58 into their 2021 season and still do not have an even-strength goal to their name.
Not a single five-on-five goal, not a four-on-four goal, and not even a three-on-three goal. The Bruins’ offensive production to date? Two net-front finishes on the power play, the first from Brad Marchand and second from Nick Ritchie in Boston’s Opening Night victory, and Saturday’s shorthanded goal from captain Patrice Bergeron.
The Bruins have managed to grab three of a possible four points despite these struggles, but Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy knows that his offense needs more purpose.
“We’re not doing the things necessary to score goals right now,” Cassidy said after Saturday’s overtime loss. “We’re not shooting enough. We’re not playing off the original shot. That to me is [the result of] just not playing hockey for a while.”
Saturday was especially painful in that respect. To Cassidy, the Bruins’ first period was “predictable.” It played out to just six shots on five-on-five, and though the Bruins hammered 12 five-on-five shots on the Devils’ Mackenzie Blackwood in the middle frame, the third period featured a game-low three shots at five-on-five.
There just wasn’t much of anything to the B’s offensive game — still without David Pastrnak and without Ondrej Kase following a stick up high from New Jersey’s Miles Wood — once the puck left their stick.
“We’re always looking to make a pass, and it showed [Saturday] in our forward shot totals,” said Cassidy. “I haven’t looked at them exactly, but they can’t be very encouraging.”
And no, no they were not.
Bergeron led all Boston shooters Saturday with seven shots on goal. The rest of Boston’s 11 forwards combined for just nine shots on goal, with Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith factoring in as the B’s next-best shooters, with two shots each. Second-line wing Jake DeBrusk had just one shot on as many attempts, and the always-buzzing Brad Marchand finished his afternoon without a shot (that happened just 16 times all over the last four seasons).
Behind Bergeron, it was Matt Grzelcyk and Jeremy Lauzon who factored in as the Black and Gold’s top shooting threats, with four shots from each defender. The average shooting distance of their looks in regulation: 64 feet. Take out Lauzon’s full-ice shot and it shrinks down to 50.6 feet. These weren’t exactly high-percentage looks, and the Bruins’ inability to create traffic or pounce on pucks after these shots made them fruitless.
The three-on-three overtime brought about some stronger looks, but Grzelcyk’s closest look didn’t get through Blackwood, and left him chasing Egor Sharangovich the other way on what was the game-winning goal.
“Sometimes you’re shooting to force a team to recover a rebound, you’re shooting to force the goalie to control his rebound, you’re shooting for a second chance, it might draw a penalty,” Cassidy offered. “There’s a lot of different things that can happen off a shot.
“We’re not doing enough of that right now.”
With Pastrnak out, some of this was to be expected. After all, Pastrnak was responsible for 28 of Boston’s 165 even-strength goals (17 percent) a season ago, and the Bruins have thus far replaced him with Anders Bjork and Jack Studnicka. Saturday ended with David Krejci riding as the right wing with Bergeron and Marchand, and Studnicka sat as a healthy scratch after failing to land a shot on goal in his 11:40 season debut Thursday.
But the players the Bruins are relying on carry the scoring load in Pastrnak’s absence are more than capable, and Cassidy knows it.
“We’ll address it and they’re gonna have to buy in to that,” Cassidy noted. “We’re gonna need some offense from our forwards to make up for [the inexperience on the backend].”
Here’s some other thoughts and notes from a 2-1 overtime loss at The Rock…
Bergeron-Marchand remain elite penalty-killing tandem
Scoring at five-on-five has been a struggle, but one thing the Bruins can still rely on is the shorthanded effectiveness of the Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron combination.
And Saturday’s shorty was just fantastic.
It started in the defensive zone, too, as Marchand simply outworked Jack Hughes for a loose puck in the corner before he outmuscled Kyle Palmieri in the neutral zone and found Bergeron between the circles in the O-zone.
Just disguising by Marchand pic.twitter.com/FtyX6XXn02— Bruins Stats (@bruins_stats) January 16, 2021
“You know, when he has a step on a guy he’s going to try to make that play and he’s going to find you,” Bergeron said of Marchand’s shorthanded efforts. “So it’s about trying to find a lane for him. He always has that second or third effort on a puck, and that’s what makes him so good.”
Since the start of the 2018 season, this duo has now combined for 10 shorthanded goals. That’s more than the Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, and Los Angeles Kings have each scored as a team over that span, and as many as both the Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues.
Craig Smith makes Bruins debut
After a lower-body injury held him out of Thursday’s Opening Night victory, Craig Smith made his Bruins debut Saturday, and finished with two shots on goal in just over 17 minutes of ice-time.
“It’s fun being around the rink again,” Smith admitted. “I came in on the bus for the first game and it got me fired up. It sucked being out, but to be around the atmosphere and the guys in the room again was fun.”
Smith’s debut came with a versatile mix of linemates, too, due to both injuries and offensive struggles, as Smith spent the majority of his day with Charlie Coyle but also had a few twirls with David Krejci and Sean Kuraly.
“I think the first period was kind of high energy and chaotic at times,” Smith admitted. “I thought our line had a few good chances. Playing with a lot of guys, sometimes it’s not a bad thing. I’m jumping in and trying to be sharp, be predictable for my linemates. I think everybody was able to adjust to it, and do as best we could.”
Bruins lose Ondrej Kase to upper-body injury
It was a one right wing in, one right wing out day for the Bruins, as Smith’s return was by all means spoiled by the departure of second-line wing Ondrej Kase after just 4:40 of ice time.
And for Kase, who has been absolutely snakebitten since coming to the Bruins from Anaheim prior to the 2020 trade deadline, the trouble appeared to come with a stick up high from the Devils’ Miles Wood.
Looks like Kase took a hit up high from Miles Wood. Not great. pic.twitter.com/kkGMbYa0TO— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) January 16, 2021
Kase tried to finish his shift, but had obvious trouble on the bench, and departed for the day shortly thereafter despite a “questionable to return” designation from the B’s.
“Upper-body, unable to return,” Cassidy said after the loss. “Probably have a better update for you tomorrow.”
Kase does have a concussion history, having missed 18 games due to a concussion in 2018, and has missed 65 total games due to injury since the start of the 2018-19 season.