The Bruins had four games to get ready for the first round -- the real first round -- of the playoffs. They have now played half of those games, and they are clearly a team that still has a lot of work to do.
Whereas the Bruins started poorly Thursday night against Columbus before settling down and getting a bit better as the game went on, Sunday’s round-robin opener against the Flyers was the opposite.
They actually had a really good first period even though they came out of it with the score still 0-0, but then everything went downhill en route to a 4-1 loss, their second loss by that score since arriving in the Toronto bubble.
It would be hard to identify an area of the Bruins’ game right now that looks good. Maybe the third line of Anders Bjork, Charlie Coyle and Karson Kuhlman would be the closest, as they controlled play and created a bunch of chances throughout Sunday’s game, but even still they wound up being on the ice for two goals against and none for.
The big line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak got outplayed by the Flyers’ top line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek and didn’t create nearly enough offense even when they got away from that line for a bunch of shifts. In 8:19 of 5-on-5 time together, the Bruins’ top line got outshot 4-1 and outscored 2-0, according to Natural Stat Trick.
The exciting new second line of Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and Jack Studnicka wasn’t so exciting outside of a couple good shifts in the first period, and Studnicka wound up getting skipped over a couple times as the game went on and Cassidy chose to double-shift Pastrnak a few times.
The fourth line scored the Bruins’ lone goal when Chris Wagner banked in a shot off a Flyers defender, but also spent a lot of time in their own zone chasing around the Flyers’ top line and hanging on for dear life.
The power play went 0-for-3 and rarely looked like the dangerous weapon it was in the regular season. Overpassing was an issue throughout the game, but it was especially noticeable on the power play as the Bruins' top guys seemed to be trying too hard to make the perfect play instead of just getting the puck to the net.
"I think they should keep it simple until they find their game," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said of his top line. "...I'd just like to see the whole team have a shot mentality. They weren't the only one. Torey (Krug) turned down a one-timer from the slot in the second period. Charlie McAvoy again. Jack had a 3-on-2 from the slot and chose to pass, and then Krech chose to pass from there. It wasn't just our top line. I think it was a bit of a team-wide problem, and I saw a bit of it against Columbus, and we'll probably see a little more of it Wednesday, but we've gotta get it out of our system quickly here."
Then there were the mistakes. On all four of the Flyers’ goals, the Bruins made the kinds of mistakes you just can’t make in the postseason. On the first, the Bruins’ top line started to fly the zone before the puck had actually been cleared out. Travis Sanheim kept it in at the blue line and found a wide-open Michael Raffl, who had all day to flip a backhander past Jaroslav Halak before the Bruins could recover.
On the second, the Bruins got caught on a bad line change as the Flyers collected a loose puck in the neutral zone and transitioned into the offensive zone. Pastrnak was late picking up Nate Thompson, who beat Halak over the blocker. Making matters worse was Jeremy Lauzon partially blocking Halak’s view but not blocking the shot.
The third came just eight seconds after the Bruins had cut it to 2-1, when Zdeno Chara got caught holding onto the puck too long off the faceoff and turned it over under pressure from Voracek, leading to a 2-on-1 goal for Philippe Myers.
Then it was another uncharacteristic mistake from a usually steady defenseman on the fourth, as Brandon Carlo pinched in at the offensive blue line but couldn’t keep the puck in front of him, leading to another odd-man rush and a goal for Scott Laughton.
"Puck management," Cassidy said. "We made some mistakes, some puck plays, where they came back and they buried it on us quick. Structurally, I thought our game was OK away from the puck. Like I said, our breakdowns were costly. Some individual mistakes. A bad line change. The good news about those is they're correctable.
"I'm thinking we need to make a better friggin' play with the puck, is what I'm thinking," Cassidy added. "...We need to make better plays with the puck, be stronger on it, take care of it, more urgency. You can use any adjective you want. That's to me what was the difference in the game."
While odd-man-rush goals are hard to pin on the goalie, Halak wasn’t without fault in this one either. He had at least a chance on three of the Flyers’ four goals, and on the last one he was well off his line, giving Laughton plenty to shoot at on his glove-side.
"We needed more stops obviously," Cassidy said. "The breakdowns, they were all good goals, good shots. Maybe the second one got through him, I don't know if it was a screen from Lauzon. They were good shots, but obviously when we're only putting up one goal ourselves, we needed more saves. Usually you look at a goalie, did he give up bad goals? No. Did we need a few extra saves in this situation today? Yes."
Against a lesser opponent, maybe the Bruins would’ve gotten away with a couple of the mistakes they made Sunday. But the Flyers made them pay, and things aren’t going to be any more forgiving against the Lightning on Wednesday or the Capitals next Sunday.
The good news is that there is still time to fix this before the games that really matter, though not a lot. The Bruins know they’re playing in the first round in a week and a half no matter what happens in this round-robin tournament, but there is definitely still some urgency here. They still want to get as high a seed as possible, and more importantly they want to be playing playoff-caliber hockey, something they haven’t done yet.
Every day is going to be critical, both for the guys in the lineup right now and the guys who aren't. Will Tuukka Rask, who missed Sunday's game after not feeling well Saturday, be ready to go by Wednesday? And what will the goaltending plan be after Halak didn't exactly make a strong case to run with the starting job? When and how does Ondrej Kase, who finally rejoined the team on Friday, factor into this equation? Does Nick Ritchie, who recently returned to practice, get an opportunity?
The fact that the Bruins have been back on the ice for three weeks and still have so many questions to answer and so many adjustments to make is certainly concerning, but they have proven to be a resilient group in the past.
Krug, for one, expects them to prove it again.
"We have to start at the bottom in the D zone and work out from there," Krug said. "Until you reach that perfect game, you're always striving for it. Right now we have to change some things. Get a little bit greasier, raise our compete level. ... We have some things to pick up and fix, and you can count on this group to do that."