The sky is falling! The Bruins have lost three in a row!
OK… so, there’s still probably no need to panic given that the Bruins remain nine points ahead of any other team in the NHL, and that we knew this was going to be one of the toughest stretches in their schedule.
After losing consecutive games for the first time all season against the Lightning and Panthers, Boston could not have been set up any worse to avoid making it three. Second night of a back-to-back, with travel, against the team with the second-best record in the NHL.
Sure enough, the Bruins could not find a way to bounce back against the Hurricanes in Raleigh on Sunday. They fell behind 1-0 in the first, 2-0 in the second, and then 3-0 early in the third. They got one back when Taylor Hall tipped in a Pavel Zacha shot, but that was as close as they would get before Jordan Staal added an empty-netter for the 4-1 final.
Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron acknowledged fatigue was probably a factor after the game.
“Yeah, I think so. I think you can’t deny that,” Bergeron said. “That being said, we have to be pros and make sure you bring it every night. Back-to-back on the road, lots of hockey -- it’s part of it. That being said, it’s nothing that other teams aren’t seeing. It’s part of the schedule we all have, so we have to be better.”
He’s right: The tough schedule and fatigue can’t be ignored, but there are still things the Bruins have to do better. Here are three of them that they’ll be aiming to fix -- ideally by Wednesday night’s pre-All-Star break finale in Toronto, but certainly by the time they return from the All-Star break on Feb. 11.
The Bruins have done a good job taking care of the puck this season. They make teams work for scoring chances and rarely give them away. That has not been the case these last three games, however.
On Sunday, two of Carolina’s goals came directly off Bruins turnovers. On the first, David Pastrnak skated right into traffic just inside the offensive blue line and got his pocket picked by Sebastian Aho for a breakaway goal the other way.
On the Hurricanes’ third goal, Brandon Carlo -- who has had an especially tough go of it this past week -- had the puck on his stick in the neutral zone, but was too slow and indecisive with it. Seth Jarvis took it away and raced in for another breakaway goal.
On Saturday, the Bruins had a couple failed clearances right before the Panthers’ game-tying goal in the final seconds of regulation.
The careless puck play has put Boston’s goalies under more stress than they’ve faced all season. Before Saturday, the Bruins had not allowed 35-plus shots on goal in back-to-back games all season. They’ve now allowed more than that in three straight.
“I thought they checked us right out of the rink,” Bruins coach Jim Montgomery told NESN after Sunday’s game. “Give them credit. They competed hard. They really checked well. They caused a lot of turnovers that led to odd-man rushes. Two of their goals they got were because of turnovers.”
In addition to handing their opponents chances, the Bruins have also robbed themselves of good looks with turnovers. Pastrnak had a couple of that variety on Sunday, too, as did Taylor Hall. Too many Bruins to name were guilty of turnovers on the power play while trying to enter the zone. Speaking of which…
The power play
Another area that has suddenly gone from strength to weakness. The Bruins’ power play has been ranked in the top five all season, but you would never guess that if you just watched these last three games.
After an 0-for-6 showing on Sunday, the Bruins’ man advantage is now 0-for-12 over the last three games. It has struggled mightily to even get set up in the offensive zone, never mind create good looks.
The Bruins tried to make some changes Sunday, but nothing worked. Montgomery replaced Hall with David Krejci on the top unit, but Krejci’s vision and playmaking was of no use with the Bruins hardly able to get into the offensive zone. Hall looked out of place on the second unit, too. He collided with Hampus Lindholm on one attempted zone entry and turned the puck over trying to dance through two Hurricanes on another.
The B’s tried to simplify things with more of a dump-and-chase strategy as the game went on, but they were missing the chase part. At one point, they had three straight dump-ins -- two of them from Pavel Zacha -- that the Hurricanes easily got to first and cleared.
Montgomery tried to strike an optimistic tone after the game.
“I’m not worried about our power play. Our players are too talented and too competitive,” he said.
He’s right that the Bruins are too talented to not eventually get the power play back on track. But there’s also some real work to do, which Montgomery himself acknowledged on Saturday.
“I think our power play’s gotten outworked the last two nights,” Montgomery said then. “I think that has led to very little zone time.”
This is starting to sound repetitive, but here it is: The Bruins have been the best third-period team in the NHL this season, but they have now lost three straight third periods.
They were tied after two against the Lightning, but got outscored 2-1 in the third. They had the lead after two against the Panthers, but again got outscored 2-1 in the third and then lost in overtime.
They weren’t good in any period on Sunday and were already down 2-0 after two, but there could have been some reason for optimism given that the Hurricanes, who are great in periods one and two, have actually been outscored in third periods this season. Instead, the Bruins gave up an early goal to go down 3-0 and -- you guessed it -- wound up getting outscored 2-1 in the third.
Part of this could obviously be the fatigue that Bergeron mentioned, especially in the case of Sunday’s game. But the Bruins shouldn’t have really been any more fatigued on Thursday or Saturday than any other game. Either way, two days off before their next game and then nine days off after that for the All-Star break is a welcome sight for the Bruins.
For a while, it looked like the All-Star break could only serve to slow the Bruins down. Now, it looks like it’s coming at a perfect time to regroup.