The four goals the Bruins allowed in Sunday’s round-robin loss to the Flyers were more the result of individual mistakes than any sort of team-wide breakdown of their defensive systems.
There was definitely a common theme that helped prevent them from scoring more than one goal at the other end, though -- getting too cute and overpassing.
“Simplify your game” is a cliché in hockey, and really all sports, but it’s also exactly what the Bruins need to do right now for a number of reasons.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy noted a couple days ago that players’ hands haven’t caught up to their feet yet, meaning their conditioning and skating is in a good spot, but their execution on skill plays and plays in tight spaces isn’t quite there yet. So there’s one reason to keep it simple.
Another is the condition of the ice. Anyone who has watched any of the games in the Toronto bubble has probably noticed lots of bouncing pucks, especially later in periods. With as many as three games a day being played at Scotiabank Arena, in the middle of the summer and all featuring NHL playoff intensity, the ice is being tested like never before, and it’s holding up about as well as you’d expect, which is to say not especially well.
So that’s reason No. 2 to keep it simple. The more you try to make fancy plays or extra passes on bad ice, the more you increase your chances of losing control or having a puck bounce over your stick for a turnover.
Neither the rusty hands nor the choppy ice fully explain the Bruins’ struggles, because their opponents were dealing with the same exact conditions. But not adapting to those conditions as well as their opponents does help explain those struggles.
Cassidy made it clear after Sunday’s loss what he wants to see from his team going forward.
“I'd just like to see the whole team have a shot mentality,” he said. “…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.”
The work to get it out of their system continues Monday and Tuesday as they turn the page to their second round-robin game against the Lightning on Wednesday. The message about what they have to do is clear. Torey Krug summed it up with a slogan that could fit on a T-shirt: “One pass, put it on net, recover pucks.”
“I think just maybe change our mentality a little bit, try to get away from those pretty plays,” Krug said. “We make one pass, we put it on net, we recover a puck, now those seams and those pretty plays that you speak of will be there. Let’s just change our mentality. One pass, put it on net, recover pucks, work hard to recover pucks. It’s obvious that things are bouncing out there, so just the change the way you approach things and hopefully it works out for us.”
The Bruins’ top line and top power-play guys were as guilty of making things too complicated as anyone. That’s not really a surprise, because they’re the ones who have the skill to be able to often pull off those more complex plays. When it’s working, they’re nearly impossible to defend.
But it’s not working right now. So, simplify. That’s not to say the likes of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak can’t attempt any skill plays or that they have to only play a chip-and-chase style. But it does mean they have to be smarter about picking their spots, something Marchand acknowledged on Monday.
“You have to be really conscious of your decisions all the time,” Marchand said. “Little mistakes, especially this time of year, can really cost you. And when you’re off for as long as we’ve been, you have to be very sharp with your decision-making, especially with the ice being in the condition it’s in.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of teams playing a lot more simple and chipping a lot more pucks in. It’s a lot harder to make plays, so you have to be smart with when you try to do things, where you try to make plays. Just try to manage the time and score, because the last thing you want to do is make a bad decision because you’re not mentally aware of the time of the game or the ice conditions or what may it be. It’s different, so it’s going to take some getting used to.”