Have you ever met someone who said their favorite board game as a kid (or high-functioning adult for that matter) was Perfection? You know, the one where you’re forced to slot pieces perfectly into place before the timer runs out and the entire board blows up right in your face? What about Operation? Pickin’ buckets and wishbones out of a man with the worst diet in the world and being met with a loud buzzer screaming at you if you made a slight mistake?
No, you have not. You’d have to be deranged to enjoy these games. They’re the reason half this generation suffers from some anxiety disorder, I’m pretty sure.
But that’s exactly what this recent stretch of games for the Bruins, who have now dropped four of five following Monday’s 4-1 loss to the Penguins, feels like.
Off to a flying start against a Penguins team that’s been dominant on home in 2021, the Bruins jumped out to a 1-0 lead behind a Matt Grzelcyk snipe that found the only angle Pittsburgh netminder Tristan Jarry couldn’t cover. It was their only tally in what turned out to be a season-high 42-save performance from Jarry, and proved that, yes, even their goals have to be perfect shots to actually beat a goalie these days.
It was undone by a horrendous 103-second stretch from Jaroslav Halak, too, with a pair of back-to-back soft serves into his net, the first from Evan Rodrigues and second from Sidney Crosby.
“[Halak] wasn’t good in the first period,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy admitted. “And he’s played a lot of hockey for us lately, a lot of good hockey. So you have to push back, right? I mean, he’s bailed us so lots of times.”
It felt cruel that Halak was going to be the goat (no, not that one) of the night given what he had given the Bruins in his previous four outings. Halak was the only player who showed up in last Saturday’s debacle against the Rangers, and had posted a .950 save percentage over that four-game run. But that’s exactly how it played out, with the Bruins unable to muster another goal after Crosby’s tally, and with the loss almost feeling official after a Geno Malkin tally gave the Penguins a two-goal edge midway through the second period.
And like most tallies that end up in the back of the Boston net these days, they began with a self-inflicted error leading to the worst possible result.
On the Crosby goal, the Bruins had the puck on the Pittsburgh side of the red line and were victimized by a neutral-zone turnover instead of ‘keeping it simple’ with pressure and possession. And a Connor Clifton trip opened the door for the aforementioned Malkin strike.
“We have to be a smarter hockey team while you’re not scoring because you got to stay in the game,” Cassidy said. “You got to win lower-scoring games and you gotta be clean, you gotta be smart, and make good decisions with the puck. And that was a goal of ours. And I thought we certainly met it most of the night managing the puck compared to [Saturday against] New York. But the couple of times we didn’t got ourselves in trouble, and against a good team, and they capitalized. So I think that was more the deflating part for me as a coach.”
When you’re struggling as bad as the Bruins have been in recent weeks, those are killers.
Especially when you look at the things the Bruins are doing well. Without three regulars from their Opening Night defense corps (which moved on from two steady defensemen in the offseason), the Bruins rolled out a defense of part-time NHLers once you got beyond the Grzelcyk-Charlie McAvoy pairing. Still, that defense held the Pens to just 25 shots, and only one member of their defense finished with a negative possession percentage.
In net, Halak rebounded from those stinkers by stopping all three high-danger looks at five-on-five, and added another perfect three-for-three on the Penguins’ medium-danger shots at five-on-five. The two goals shouldn’t have been the final nails in his coffin, and honestly, same for the Malkin goal that made it a two-goal game with under 30 minutes to go. Unless he posted a shutout, injured starter Tuukka Rask couldn’t have given them much more than Halak did Monday.
We’ve been able to say that far too many times in recent weeks, with the Bruins scoring a single goal or getting shutout in five of their last seven contests. In fact, the Bruins have now gone over 155 minutes since their last five-on-five goal, and have scored just two five-on-five goals over their last five games (both came in their only victory over that span).
The undermanned Bruins are being asked to a play damn near perfect game. Every night. And it’s too much.
“It does feel like every mistake is going in our net,” Bruins winger Brad Marchand said after Monday’s defeat. “But that just means we’ve got to clean up our game a little bit when things aren’t going well and you’re not scoring the way you want to, you got to play almost mistake-free hockey. But we had a much better effort tonight, if we play like try that again tomorrow than hopefully we have a much better result.
“What we’re more focused on is not the outcome, but the process, how we need to play each night, and the accountability that we need to bring to each other and to make sure you bring your best game each night. And if we do that, then we’re going to win more games and we’re going to lose we’re just too good of a team with too much depth.”
But this is the problem the Bruins are continuing to run into with little change in the result.
After Monday’s 1-for-42 effort from a shooting standpoint, and 0-for-34 shooting night at five-on-five, the Bruins’ five-on-five shooting percentage now sits at 6.56 percent for 2021. Only the Predators (sixth-worst point percentage in the NHL this year) and Sabres (the worst team in hockey) have shot worse. The Bruins have also generated just 165 high-danger scoring chances this season, which ranks as the worst in all of hockey, trailing even the Red Wings.
And the scoring depth has yet to arrive to help the Bruins out of this funk.
Charlie Coyle just completed his fifth straight game without a shot on goal, and Craig Smith’s promotion to the second line didn’t do anything to snap him out of a scoring funk that’s now hit nine straight games without a goal. David Krejci has followed up his ice-breaking goal last Thursday with just one shot on goal in almost half an hour of all-situation time on ice. An angry Jake DeBrusk remained on the ice Monday, but the results didn’t follow him on the box score, which now opens the door to additional questioning as to how he’ll regain that spark in pursuit of tangible production. Anders Bjork fired his beat shot of the season on goal at the 2:17 mark of the first period… and it was his only shot of the night.
It wasn’t nearly enough.
It was instead another night where the Bruins hammered 16 of their five-on-five shots on goal in 10:04 with the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line on the ice, while the other three lines accounted for 17 in their 25 minutes plus of play.
And it’s certainly worth mentioning that 21 of the 34 five-on-five shots thrown on Jarry were classified as “low-danger.”
There’s just not enough power to push the Bruins out of the mud at the first sign of danger most nights.
So with Perfection unattainable (and unrealistic to begin with given the grind of this season), and the Operation horn blaring in their face at all times, perhaps it’s time the Bruins ease their burden and look for a new game.
May I suggest a ‘Guess Who?’ for potential external help?