When a team wins by a 6-2 margin, it can seem nit-picky to point out the small details of what the team failed to do well. In the Bruins 6-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes Monday night, however, the negatives from the Boston perspective were not nit-picky details but rather worrying tendencies that were simply masked by the lopsided score.
The Bruins got off to a slow start in terms of playing responsibly with the puck Monday and struggled mightily on defense, allowing more than 40 shots to their opponent for the third time in their last four games. Thanks to terrible goaltending by Carolina, some opportune goals and strong play by Tuukka Rask, the box score did not reflect the Bruins’ struggles. Still, that doesn’t mean that the issues went unnoticed by the team.
Although Rask proved up to the challenge Monday night, multiple Bruins players acknowledged that if the team hopes to play deep into the playoffs, the Bruins will have to improve on defense from the way they played against the Hurricanes.
“The last few games [the opponent]’s been getting way too many opportunities and in playoffs you can’t give that many up,” said forward Brad Marchand. “You’re going to get worn down and it just makes it very tough to play out there. We definitely have to tighten that up and everyone has to come back a little bit harder and just kind of stop in our positions.
“We seem to be running around a little bit in our end and we’re getting caught out of position too much so hopefully we can continue to work on that and clean that up a bit.”
The Bruins’ defensive breakdowns nearly created a very different game in the first period when, with the game still tied 0-0, Zdeno Chara was lured out of position by a play on the boards, creating a 2-on-0 at the crease for Carolina. Rask bailed out his captain when he slid cross-crease and made a toe-save on Zac Dalpe to preserve the 0-0 score. Less than a minute later, Rich Peverley potted the first Boston goal, but had Dalpe scored on the 2-on-0, the Bruins could be reflecting on a very different game.
Rask made momentum-changing saves all night. In the third period, with the Bruins leading 5-2 and the Hurricanes only a few shifts removed from scoring twice in 45 seconds, Rask again bailed out his defense by making a sprawling stop Riley Nash, who had woven his way through four different Bruins to earn himself a one-on-one bid against Rask.
“[Carolina] is a team that will expose you even more with their aggressive forecheck from all five guys, sitting right on top of you,” said coach Claude Julien. “It exposed us a little bit tonight, no doubt about that. But we’ve got to get better in that area. Tuukka really played a solid game for us tonight, and probably covered a lot of the mistakes and the damage that could have been done.”
The Bruins attributed their struggles on defense to a slow start in the first period (in which they allowed 18 shots on goal) and poor decisions with the puck when trying to break out of their own zone. Throughout Monday night’s game, the Bruins would attempt to chip short passes through Hurricane players in order to start a breakout only to, in the process of passing, turn the puck right back over to the Hurricanes.
That habit led directly to Carolina’s first goal of the game, as Dougie Hamilton’s attempt to slip a rebound through the middle of the slot backfired when the puck ended up on Patrick Dwyer’s stick instead. The right winger promptly backhanded it past Rask to tighten the game to a 5-1 score.
“The types of passes we’re giving each other kind of give our problems to the next guy, and the next guy’s doing the same thing,” Julien said. “We’ve just got to manage the puck a little bit better, and make some better decisions. That first goal against, no need to force that up the middle.”
But although the Bruins gave up way too many shots Monday and made quite a few irresponsible passes, they suggested that their issues were simply a matter of not executing the system in place. That assessment makes sense; despite playing poor defense in the first period, the Bruins did improve a bit as the game went on, allowing 12 shots each in the second and third periods.
“I mean, if you look at the first period we were under a lot of pressure, and we just couldn’t get the puck out of our zone with our passing play,” said Dennis Seidenberg. “We just have to get sharper, support ourselves a little bit better, and then everything is going to come.”