The first week after the Olympic break for the Boston Bruins was supposed to be against subpar opponents that would allow Boston to ease their way back into their NHL schedule. After all, the combined record of their first four opponents after the break is 14 games under .500. Two games back from the break however; Boston is 0-1-1 and has not looked like the team that was 7-2-1 in their previous 10 games.
What has gone wrong?
After allowing nine goals in two games it would be logical to assume that the Bruins defense and goaltending has not been very good. In their first game against the Buffalo Sabres that was the case.
The Bruins defense was unable to contain a team that ranks last in the NHL, averaging less than two goals a game. It was a particularly tough night for Torey Krug, who was a minus-2 on the night despite assisting on two of the Bruins goals. While Krug is out there for his offensive abilities, he needs to do a better job at using leverage when he is battling in his own end against bigger forwards.
Chad Johnson also struggled in net against Buffalo, allowing a couple soft goals in the loss. Johnson also had trouble with his rebound control, something he had problems with earlier in the season. Despite his tough night, Johnson’s impressive play in his previous starts in goal should temper the calls from Bruins fans for the Bruins to bring up Niklas Svedberg from Providence to take over the backup position behind Tuukka Rask.
In their next loss against the Washington Capitals, it was another game that featured defensive breakdowns by the Bruins. After allowing two power-play goals by Alex Ovechkin, the Bruins dug themselves into an even deeper hole after Joel Ward outworked both Johnny Boychuck and Matt Bartkowski. After Boston won a face-off at center ice, Ward intercepted a pass from Boychuck to Bartkowski and split the two defensemen before beating Rask with a backhander.
After goals from Patrice Bergeron and Shawn Thornton cut the Capitals lead to only one, another defensive blunder put any chance of a comeback out of reach. Trying to get the tying goal, Boychuck pinched down in the offensive zone leaving Torey Krug as the Bruins last line of defense. An untimely turnover by Bergeron gave the Capitals’ Eric Fehr the puck with only Krug to beat. As Krug tried to get back, he tripped over the stick of Ward and Fehr was off on the breakaway. Fehr was able to beat Rask five-hole and put the game away for his team.
Despite giving up four goals, Rask was not the problem in this game as he was not given much help. Two goals against him were by the league’s best scorer in Ovechkin on the power-play, and the other two goals allowed were breakaway chances caused by poor play in front of Rask. After the game, the Bruins netminder did not mix words when speaking about the play in front of him. “It doesn’t matter if we keep talking about it, today was pretty crappy again…just mental mistakes,” said Rask. “You talk about certain things in their power-play; you just give them those opportunities and breakaways and stuff like that. It’s just not our style. So, we just have to be better.”
In both games the Bruins were unable to comeback after falling behind by two goals, which only adds to a disturbing trend this season. Boston is now winless in every game that they have found themselves down two goals at any point.
The losses are definitely not the start the team wanted going into a stretch that has them playing 17 games in 30 days. Fortunately for the Bruins, the mistakes that they are making are caused more by mental errors, than ones caused by not having enough talent. Having the ability to play better however does not mean Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli won’t be looking for possible moves before the trade deadline Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET. The question is whether or not he will be looking for back-end depth on the defensive blue line, or if he will look to add a legitimate top-six defenseman.
If Boston does make a move however, it will not be before their game tonight against the New York Rangers, so it will be up to the players they currently have to stop making the mental mistakes that have hurt them in their last two losses. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden. Although the Rangers are a better team than both the Sabres and Capitals, the Bruins have dominated the Rangers as of late, winning six of their last seven games against New York.