Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 26: Sam Carrick #39 and Trevor Zegras #11 of the Anaheim Ducks celebrate a goal by teammate Troy Terry (not pictured) to tie the game in the final minute against goaltender Linus Ullmark #35 of the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on October 26, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

The Boston Bruins got off to a hot start to the 2023-24 season, but the Anaheim Ducks gave them a little dose of reality on Thursday night.

As the B’s blew a late two-goal lead to the Ducks before losing in overtime, underlying concerns bubbled to the surface. It’s a good time to take stock of those and other problems, because they have a gauntlet on deck during their current homestand.

First, the Bruins get the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night. Detroit will be coming off two straight losses, but they’re still 5-2-1 and boast the NHL’s hottest offense in the early-going. Next Monday and Thursday, they take on the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs. Those matchups can speak for themselves. So, the Bruins have some things they’ll want to try to clean up before they enter the first really challenging stretch of the season this weekend…

Clearing Pucks

Oct 26, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Anaheim Ducks center Trevor Zegras (11) shoots the puck on Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) during overtime at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 26, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Anaheim Ducks center Trevor Zegras (11) shoots the puck on Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) during overtime at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with the most immediate, glaring issue: clearing the puck from the defensive zone in crunch time. Pavel Zacha had two unsuccessful clear attempts just seconds before the Ducks scored their second goal with 1:55 left in regulation. Then, during the sequence that led to the Ducks’ tying goal, Zacha, David Pastrnak, Trent Frederic, and Hampus Lindholm all whiffed.

Head coach Jim Montgomery believes the problem on Thursday night was that they tried too hard to go for empty-net goals, when in that situation, lofting the puck out of the zone and bleeding the clock down was the optimal option. Next time the Bruins have to protect a lead and run out the clock, we’ll see if they learned their lesson.

“I thought the game was over twice [if] we put it in an empty net; guys whiffing on pucks and guys trying to go for the open net instead of using the walls as an indirect to clear and get off the ice,” Montgomery said after the game. “That was mostly it.”

  • Slow Starts

    Oct 26, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) makes a save on Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Strome (16) during the first period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 26, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) makes a save on Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Strome (16) during the first period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    The Bruins have had mostly outstanding goaltending from start to finish, but the guys in front of them need to play better in the first period than they have.

    Entering Friday, the Bruins ranked seventh in the NHL in first-period goal differential (plus-2), but tied for 21st in first-period goals scored (five, compared to three allowed). Translation: their goaltending is saving their asses early in these games.

    And despite that, the Bruins have still gone down 1-0 in four of seven games so far – and they’re a perfect 4-0 in those games. They are resilient and competitive. But these trends may not hold up against a team like Toronto or Florida. Stronger starts are needed outside the goalies.

  • Trying To Do Too Much

    Oct 26, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) tries to gain control of the puck ahead of Anaheim Ducks center Sam Carrick (39) during the first period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 26, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) tries to gain control of the puck ahead of Anaheim Ducks center Sam Carrick (39) during the first period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    On multiple occasions Thursday night, Bruins forwards lost the puck on offensive rushes as a result of going for flashy dekes instead of simply using their speed or just firing the puck. Most notably, in the first period, Ducks defenseman Radko Gudas stuffed a toe-dragging Pastrnak 1-on-1. The puck trickled to the net, so it went in the books as a “shot on goal” for Pastrnak, but he was stopped cold. Gudas followed that up with a goal minutes later.

    It’s natural for a team that lacks high-end offensive firepower to start pressing with the puck, but it often backfires into turnovers or blown scoring chances. This Bruins team can’t afford to get too cute. It might help for them to lean into a more workmanlike offensive approach.

  • Power Play

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 26: Charlie Coyle #13 of the Boston Bruins scores against John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks during the second period at the TD Garden on October 26, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 26: Charlie Coyle #13 of the Boston Bruins scores against John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks during the second period at the TD Garden on October 26, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

    The Bruins are just 4-for-25 (16 percent) on the power play to begin the season, 19th in the league. This problem may be harder to correct, simply because of the aforementioned lack of firepower. But it also seems like they haven’t clearly defined enough roles for the guys on the ice, resulting in two disjointed units.

    Defenseman Charlie McAvoy stressed the importance of “reps” after the power play had some success in a win over the Nashville Predators. They have yet to turn those reps into more consistent scoring on the man advantage, and they may not rank highly in PP goals at the end of the day. But they can play a better team game on the power play than they have so far.

  • Net-Front Defense

    Oct 26, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson (36) tries to follow the puck while defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin (46) and Boston Bruins center Trent Frederic (11) look for a rebound during the third period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 26, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson (36) tries to follow the puck while defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin (46) and Boston Bruins center Trent Frederic (11) look for a rebound during the third period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    The Bruins are seventh in the NHL in 5-on-5 high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes (HDCF/60) at 12.6. But at the other end, they’ve allowed the 14th most 5-on-5 high-danger chances per 60 (HDCA/60) with 11.0. And yet, in the same category, they’ve allowed the third-fewest goals per 60 (0.6). Again, this is the Bruins’ goaltenders bailing out the skaters.

    They’re obviously built to get that added support in net and will need it at times. But as we saw Thursday night, the longer the Bruins have to defend around their net, the more hairy it gets for them. This isn’t a new problem, but it still stands: they need to figure out how to get breakouts and clears against tighter forechecking, because they won’t be able to retrieve pucks cleanly all the time.

    And especially when the other team is down and desperate to tie the game late. They learned that the hard way agains Anaheim.

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    Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Check out all of Matt’s content here.

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