Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy had plenty of things to complain about following his team’s 4-2 loss to the Penguins.
I mean, from about 7:50 p.m. on, it was a straight-up dreadful night for the Bruins. Nothing went right. From a failure to capitalize on Tristan Jarry’s first-period rebound bonanza coming back to bite the B’s by the end of Jarry’s 43-save night to another blown multi-goal lead (that’s three in their last five games) to Brad Marchand’s explosion in a decided game potentially costing him some additional time, Cassidy could’ve thrown just about anybody under the bus.
But Cassidy boiled this loss down to a simple difference between the sides.
“Goaltending picks you up some nights and it can deflate you [others],” Cassidy said after the loss. “I think we saw both in the second period. Their guy made more stops than our guy did and I think that’s end up being the bigger story in the game.
“They got saves, we didn’t. That’s my take.”
Consider that a direct hit on Bruins netminder Jeremy Swayman.
Hit with a loss behind a 21-of-24 performance in the Boston net, the second period may have been one of Swayman’s worst of the entire season. Tagged for two goals in 28 seconds by ex-Bruins winger Danton Heinen (the second of which was just a plain awful goal to give up), Swayman’s struggles continued when Sidney Crosby’s power-play goal put the Penguins back on top, and gave Pittsburgh a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the evening. Overall, that stretch featured three goals on Swayman in just 8:35, and Swayman made just two saves in between Heinen’s first goal and Crosby’s go-ahead marker.
It simply wasn’t good enough. Regardless of what was happening in front of Swayman.
“You’re not going to play a perfect game,” Cassidy acknowledged. “We had probably more chances than them in that period. Did we make some mistakes in front of our goaltender? Yes. But I don’t think we made a mistake on the second goal. It was kind of a bad one. The first one, we didn’t have clear possession coming through the neutral zone [when] our D activated, which we don’t mind, but you have to have possession and we didn’t defend the two-on-one. I’m not sure what we were thinking on that.”
Cassidy added that the Crosby goal was a good but ultimately lost battle between Crosby and B’s defenseman Brandon Carlo.
Now, it’s no secret that Cassidy’s sometimes sharp and public tongue can on occasion do more harm than good.
But there’s little about Tuesday’s postgame comments that extend outside of the reality of the situation with Swayman. With Tuukka Rask effectively out of the Bruins’ plans according to the latest report (Cassidy opted not to speak on Rask’s behalf after the loss), the Bruins are going to need Swayman down the stretch. And they’re going to need him to prove that he’s capable of hanging in there against some of the league’s upper echelon teams. That’s been an issue for him in 2021-22.
With Tuesday’s loss, the 23-year-old Swayman is now 1-6-1 in starts against teams in the playoff picture this season, and has posted a .900 save percentage over that eight-start sample. He’s also allowed three goals or more in all but two of those starts.
I can hear you from here. He’s a rookie. He’s not supposed to be a world beater after 28 NHL games. That’s true, of course. But he’s still a goalie that the Bruins are going to need to rely on down the stretch. And it can’t always be Buffalo and Ottawa. The Bruins are going to need Swayman to prove capable of handling top competition consistently if they’re to avoid running Linus Ullmark (career-high 37 games, back in 2018-19) into the ground when the schedule gets downright nasty in March and April. This concern is arguably the biggest reason why the Bruins ventured into the Rask comeback experiment in the first place.
And this is a challenge that Swayman wanted.
When he was informed of his initial move down to Providence upon Rask’s return, he had one question for Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. It was, “If those guys struggle, will I get the net again?”
That opportunity came on Monday night.
But the results didn’t, and it proved costly.
Here are some other thoughts and notes from an all-around awful night against the Penguins…