It looked like the Bruins might find a way to escape New Jersey with another win Saturday despite once again not playing particularly well, but instead Yegor Sharangovich scored with 1.7 seconds left in overtime to give the Devils a deserved victory and send the Bruins off with three of a possible four points.
On the surface, taking three of four points in a pair of road games to open a new season -- and doing so with a new-look defense -- seems just fine. In this case, however, it wasn’t good enough, and the way the Bruins played won’t be good enough going forward.
The Bruins are in arguably the deepest division in the NHL this season. They are expected to compete for the division title, and are certainly expected to finish in the top four and at least make the playoffs. The Devils, a young team with some promising talent but little in the way of stars, are widely considered the favorites to finish last in the division.
So, getting two games in New Jersey out of the gate should have been a good opportunity for the Bruins to work out some early kinks and build some momentum before their schedule gets tougher.
Instead, other than a fast start in Thursday’s season-opener, it was a lot of fairly uninspiring hockey during which they didn’t really look like a team that was clearly better than the Devils.
They blew a pair of third-period leads Thursday and nearly lost on a couple overtime breakaways before ultimately escaping with a shootout win.
On Saturday, it looked like an early fight between Kevan Miller and Miles Wood might provide a spark, but instead the Bruins looked flat for the entire first period, and Wood wound up giving New Jersey a 1-0 lead. The Bruins were better in the second and tied the game on a shorthanded goal from Patrice Bergeron, set up by Brad Marchand.
After a rough third period Thursday, you would have liked to see the Bruins really turn it on in the third Saturday and show they can step it up when it’s winning time. Instead, they mustered just three shots on goal in the frame, got out-attempted 18-5 at even strength, and were fortunate to even get to overtime and get one point, doing so only because Jaroslav Halak made a few big saves down the stretch.
It's those even-strength struggles that have to be the most concerning for the Bruins right now. Through two games, they have yet to score a five-on-five goal, and they have rarely even looked dangerous enough to do so.
The problems are pretty clear: They’re not shooting enough, and they’re not getting enough bodies to the net for screens, deflections and rebounds when they do shoot.
“We’re not shooting enough,” coach Bruce Cassidy said Saturday. “We’re not playing off the original shot, and that to me is just not playing hockey for a while. You go out and play in, I’ll call it the summer, when you’re getting ready, but for us it was the fall. Guys start skating in November or December and it’s tic-tac-toe, guys are making plays, they’re not gonna shoot unless it’s a real good chance to score.
“Sometimes you’re shooting to force a team to recover a rebound. You’re shooting to force the goalie to control his rebound. You’re shooting for a second chance, you might draw a penalty, whatever. A lot of different things can happen off a shot. That’s when Marchy and Bergy’s line is at their best, and the D are up and they’re helping recover it, and we’re not doing enough of that right now. We’re always looking to make a pass, and it showed tonight in our forward shot totals. I haven’t looked at them exactly, but they can’t be very encouraging. So we’ll address it and they’re going to have to buy into it.”
Here are the forward shot totals: 11 total at five-on-five Saturday. Only Bergeron, Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith had more than one. Marchand, Anders Bjork, Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner all had none.
The Bruins had the same problem early on in the bubble this summer, so maybe there is something to Cassidy’s theory that guys -- specifically guys on this team -- take a little bit to get back into dirty-goal, just-get-it-to-the-net mode.
But now the question is, how long will it take them to get there? It can’t be too long -- and it certainly can't just be waiting for David Pastrnak to return in a couple weeks -- because their schedule is about to get much tougher, meaning goals will be even harder to come by if they’re not playing with urgency and desperation.
They play the Islanders on Monday, a team that reached the Eastern Conference Finals last season and just destroyed the Rangers 4-0 in their opener. Then they have two games against the Flyers, a potential Stanley Cup contender that has outscored the Penguins 11-5 in their first two games.
The Bruins have been barely good enough to get three of four points against the Devils. They’ll need to be much better to get anything from their next two opponents.