The Bruins may be at the 85 percent mark of their regular season, but the competition for ice time isn’t over and the team’s ideal playoff lineup is far from set in stone, as Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed following a loss in Detroit.
“Defensively, we had some breakdowns in front of our net, we didn’t defend hard enough, [and] we didn’t manage pucks,” Cassidy said. “Our third pairing, they had a tough time. They got beat and didn’t manage a puck. In and out of the lineup, that doesn’t help their cause, to be honest with you. We expect better.”
On Tuesday, the Bruins went back to that third pairing with Derek Forbort to the left of Mike Reilly.
Together for just under five minutes of five-on-five play in the losing effort, the Red Wings scored two of their three five-on-five goals with the Forbort-Reilly pair on the ice. Those goals, which featured some ugly turnovers and poor recoveries, made a big difference by the night’s end. The Forbort-Reilly pairing, which does feature two lefties, has unfortunately yet to look anything close to playable for the Bruins. Now, the secondary problem within that, and seemingly alluded to by Cassidy, is that Reilly made it somewhat known that he wasn’t happy about being scratched after the deadline, and even said that he believes he’s an everyday player for this team. If he’s going to say that, the Bruins are going to expect nights better than his Tuesday in Detroit.
This competition is really on the backend, too, with the Bruins still trying to figure out what makes up their perfect six.
You get the sense that the Bruins want to ride with a Hampus Lindholm-Charlie McAvoy top pairing, and their on-ice results together give them a good reason to stick with that. The Bruins have, at times throughout Lindholm’s brief Boston tenure, thrown No. 27 with Brandon Carlo, but the ideal fit there is clearly with him to the left of McAvoy. Carlo is also a lock on the right side of the second pairing. Everything else? Well, close your eyes and throw a dart at the board.
But the Bruins also have something brewing in net between Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark.
In net for four goals on 28 shots, Swayman struggled en route to his second loss in three games, and his third loss in his last six games. Over that six-game sample, the 23-year-old has posted an .883 save percentage. That .883 is the fourth-worst mark among a group of 35 NHL goaltenders with at least six appearances since Mar. 15. Ullmark, meanwhile, has gone 5-0-0 over that same spell, and his .931 save percentage is the fourth-best among that group of 35.
Swayman wasn’t the only reason the Bruins lost on Tuesday night, obviously, but the Jakub Vrana goal in the third period simply can’t happen at that point in the game, and it ultimately made the difference by the end of the night.
“We didn’t get any saves when we needed them,” Cassidy remarked. “We expect our goalie to bail us out at times when you break down. Because when you look at it, there wasn’t a lot of breakdowns. We got into a little penalty trouble, but I thought our penalty kill was excellent. We scored a shortie and we might have out-chanced them.
“We’re not going to judge everyone on one game, but we are moving along here, right? There is opportunity that presents itself and you want to take advantage of it.”
The good (or bad depending on your point of view as a person) news? The Bruins will have another 12 games to get everything sorted out before they start to truly mean something.
Here’s some other thoughts and notes from a 5-3 loss in Detroit…