By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’s been 189 minutes and 58 seconds and the Boston Bruins still do not have an even-strength goal to their name.
Through two games, Boston’s scoring came by way of the power play and on the kill. But on Monday, it didn’t come at all as the Isles’ Semyon Varlamov stopped all 27 shots faced in a 1-0 win over the Bruins. Three straight games without an even-strength goal? With or without David Pastrnak, that feels almost impossible.
And the stats back that up.
Through the first long weekend of the new season, the Bruins are one of just two teams without a five-on-five goal. The Dallas Stars are the other. Reminder: The Stars have yet to play a game this season due to a COVID outbreak that hit them during training camp.
This is also the B’s first time going three straight games without an even-strength goal since the final three games of their second-round series against the Lightning in 2018. The Bruins scored five goals over the final three games of that series (all losses), with four power-play tallies and a shorthanded strike.
It’s been a staggering 14 (14!!!) years since the Bruins went this long without an even-strength goal in the regular season, too, having last gone through a similar run of agony in Mar. 15 through Mar. 20, 2007. During that stretch, the Bruins scored three power-play goals in a 4-3 shootout win over the Capitals, and were then shutout in their next two games with a 7-0 loss to the Rangers and then a 1-0 loss to the Canadiens the game after that. For perspective on how long ago that was, the B’s goals that night came from Brandon Bochenski, Marco Sturm, and a 21-year-old Patrice Bergeron.
If frustration was ever going to creep into the B’s game, five days into the season or not, it’d be after this one.
“I suspect there’ll be a bit of that,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said when asked about frustration creeping into the B’s offensive game. “Rightfully so. It does [creep in] gradually, and it did a little bit early on. You try to make the perfect play instead.”
It doesn’t help that the Bruins are seeing what a simpler offense is doing to them at the other end.
“Their goal starts from the point,” Cassidy said of the lone Islander goal Monday. “A lot of their offense comes from the point and we’re trying to build that in where it’s just a hard shot somewhere in the vicinity. We’ve seen it go against us three games in a row now where they’ve got a goal like that — I think it’s been from the left point every time — where it’s just gotten to the net and they tap it in or pinballs around or whatever you wanna call it.”
Through three games, the B’s six defensemen have combined for 31 shots on goal, 24 of which have come at even strength. Just three of them have been of the high-danger variety, however, and no defenseman has more than a single individual high-danger look to their name.
That’s a problem.
“A bit of a challenge for our D has been getting shots through on a consistent basis and being there to get there to get the tips and screens and those kind of ugly goals,” Cassidy admitted. “That’s the challenge in front of us and we’ll keep harping on it.
“We gotta break through here.”
Unless tying marks from a truly miserable 2006-07 is of interest.
Spoiler: It’s not. Not to anybody except (maybe) Dave Lewis.
Here’s more thoughts and notes from a 1-0 shutout at Nassau Coliseum…
DeBrusk gets bump up to first line
After double-shifting David Krejci for the majority of Saturday’s contest, the B’s went for a more practical fix on the right side of their first line Monday with Jake DeBrusk to the right of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
It led to the best efforts of the year from both the Bergeron-Marchand duo and DeBrusk, too.
Together for a team-high 9:52 of five-on-five play, the Marchand-Bergeron-DeBrusk trio posted team-high marks in Corsi-For percentage (75 percent), Shots For percentage (72.73 percent, at 8-3), and led the B’s with five scoring chances.
“I think our line did alright,” DeBrusk said. “We were on pucks early on, we were creating some turnovers and got some looks. We even got one in the second period there late, there was a 3-on-1 late. They’re a dangerous duo together and I just wanted to come in and be consistently hard on pucks.”
With DeBrusk with Boston’s top one-two punch, David Krejci skated with Nick Ritchie and Jack Studnicka on his wings, while Anders Bjork got a twirl with the Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith duo.
“I liked our game overall,” said Cassidy when asked about his forward combinations. “I suspect we’ll look at those lines [again]. All in all, take the results out, I thought our lineup looked solid. Didn’t seem to have any weak links. Just couldn’t finish off plays.”
Nick Ritchie among B’s bright spots out of gate
Can I ask why we have a problem giving Nick Ritchie credit for doing his job?
Nick Ritchie has been good out of the gate this season.— Ty Anderson (@_TyAnderson) January 18, 2021
(I mean, just look at the replies to this and you’ll see what I mean.)
In addition to being one of just three Bruins with a goal to their name this season, Ritchie leads the Bruins in individual scoring chances (six) and shots (eight) at five-on-five. On a team of players yet to find their stride, Ritchie has been one of the only ones pulling his weight and giving the Bruins a fighting chance in the offensive zone. Monday’s loss came with numerous chances for the 6-foot-2, 230-pound wing, too, with a five-on-five one-time look that trickled by Varlamov (but not into the net), and a pair of net-front slaps at six-on-five.
This wasn’t just a good weekend. Ritchie’s looked solid since camp opened, and there seems to be more purpose with every single one of his shifts. He’s never going to be the quickest player on the ice, and he’s still prone to bad penalties, but he’s giving you the production and effort you want for his role as a space-clearing third-liner.
Cassidy talked Ritchie and the Bruins entering the year forgetting about what happened last year, with a four-month stoppage by all means derailing any momentum he could have developed with his team, and it’s working.
We can admit this. It’s fine.
Where would the Bruins be without their goaltending?
Tuukka Rask took the loss behind a 16-of-17 performance in the Boston crease, and that may not wow you. (That said, it feels worth mentioning that it took an unfortunate tip off Patrice Bergeron’s stick and a baseball swing from the Isles’ Jean-Gabriel Pageau to beat Rask on Monday.) But it’s pretty incredible to think where the Bruins would be without the Rask and Jaroslav Halak tandem right now.
Through three games, the Rask-Halak duo has posted an .875 high-danger save percentage, which is the third-best among NHL teams with at least three games, trailing only the Canadiens (.889) and Flames (.938). I’m also pretty sure the Bruins’ goaltending tandem has also combined for six stops on seven breakaway attempts their way through the first 189 minutes of the season.
Without these guys, there’s a legit chance we’re talking about an 0-3-0 start.