More than anything else right now, the Bruins need a break.
In more ways than one.
Thursday night against the Senators came with yet another injury for the Bruins, as the team lost goaltender Linus Ullmark after just 20 minutes of play. The issue for Ullmark, who got off to a fantastic start with some high-quality saves (eight by the period’s end), came with an Erik Brannstrom clapper that hit Ullmark square in the head. The puck appeared to hit Ullmark right in the proverbial soft spot of the mask, right outside the cage and centimeters away from his right temple.
Ullmark had to wait for a whistle, then get the official’s attention, and make his way to the bench for a chat with the trainers. And while the 6-foot-4 netminder stayed in the game and finished the period (though never looking like a man who was fully upright), his departure down the tunnel and back to the B’s room would be the last we saw of him on Thursday night. The belief is that Ullmark was not pulled by a concussion spotter, but that he went to the team and said he wasn’t feeling right.
Ullmark’s departure continued a downright troubling trend for the Bruins, too, with at least one in-game, night-ending injury to a B’s player in five of their last six games (their overtime win in Tampa is the only injury-free game of that group). Among those still in the infirmary: David Pastrnak, Hampus Lindholm, and Brandon Carlo. These aren’t minor losses.
And Ullmark, who came into Thursday’s start with six wins and a .935 save percentage over his last nine outings (that .935 is the third-best in hockey since Mar. 15 among goaltenders with at least five appearances), may be the team’s biggest loss to date when considering how the other, aforementioned losses have forced the Bruins to play.
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The Bruins just don’t have a ton of room to make mistakes these days. Trent Frederic’s penalty against the Blues on Tuesday night was a perfect example, and four minors in 20 minutes of play Thursday night made the difference for the Senators, with a pair of power-play strikes on a cold Jeremy Swayman to make it 3-2 by the end of the second.
“They got to run the plays they wanted to,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of his team’s penalty-killing woes. “We were a little late with our assignments, the five-on-three is a good shot. Give them credit for executing.
“What they did a lot better than us was hit the net.”
But the Bruins didn’t make it any easier for themselves. Mike Reilly’s high-sticking penalty was a perfect example of that. The penalty, which was Reilly’s fourth stick infraction in his last four games (three high-sticking calls and a crosscheck), was enough to accelerate what felt like an all-too-easy-to-see spiral. It’s just the way it’s gone for this team during their recent slide.
This is where the team feels the loss of a Carlo and a Lindholm. Both when it comes to matching up against a Brady Tkachuk-type talent without taking penalties and providing some steady defensive-zone help when down a man.
Factor that in with a power play that is simply trapped in hell to the tune of an 0-for-23 spell and it’s one big headache.
“Guys want to get it done. I give them credit for competing and wanting to get it done,” Cassidy said of the Boston power play, which finished the night with an 0-for-5 mark. “We need something good to happen on that power play so they can just relax and start moving it like they’re capable of.”
With Pastrnak out, the Bruins have really been unable to find their next-best go-to option while up a man. Teams have keyed in on taking Patrice Bergeron away, and Taylor Hall’s move to Pastrnak’s spot has been borderline disastrous. There’s been too many instances of Hall passing up some shots or going for low-percentage, easily-intercepted passes. Neutral zone movement and zone entries have also appeared to be a bit of a problem for Hall in this new role. The Bruins have also had some plain rotten luck at the front of the net no matter who’s there, and they’re not creating enough rebound for that threat to be just that.
After the loss, Matt Grzelcyk talked about the way teams focus in on Pastrnak when on the kill and try to take him away, and how that often creates a four-on-three for the Bruins. Without that, you’ve seen the offensive-zone tighten up on the Black and Gold’s man advantage, with teams free to be a bit more aggressive and eliminate their time and space.
“You’re kind of looking for the perfect look instead of just making the play that’s in front of you, creating two-on-ones all over the ice,” Grzelcyk said of their struggles. “We look at it in video, but it’s another thing to go out there and execute.”
Every player the Bruins are without right now just has that ‘pressure relief valve’ quality. From Carlo and Lindholm’s know-how on the penalty kill and against high-end talents to Pastrnak’s ability to bail the team out with a power-play bomb or timely goal, their losses have added more and more pressure on the Bruins with each passing struggle.
Mounting frustration only seems natural, at this point. But it can’t be the solution, as Cassidy noted.
“Frustration is a useless emotion,” Cassidy said. “So, I’m not frustrated. I want to correct things.”
That could start with, oh I don’t know, just one thing going their way.
Here’s some other thoughts and notes from a 3-2 loss to the Senators…