By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — To their credit the Bruins weren’t tested too often during their first 10 games under coach Bruce Cassidy.
On the road to winning eight of those 10 games the Bruins scored first eight times. In a ninth game, they allowed Vancouver to score first but had the lead back before the first period concluded. Playing as front-runners left little room for the Bruins to need to deviate from their game plan.
So for the first time in the Cassidy era, the Bruins were tested in Ottawa on Monday. The Senators scored on their first two shots of the game, the Bruins were playing catchup the entire night and the challenge of making the Senators pay for sitting back on their lead proved too great. The Senators won 4-2 and opened up a four-point lead on the Bruins for second place in the Atlantic Division.
The Bruins didn’t have an on-ice practice Wednesday and instead went over some video of the Senators and their upcoming opponent, Detroit, which visits TD Garden on Wednesday.
Among the Bruins’ remaining 16 games are two against Ottawa. Regardless of the opponent, the Bruins are going to have to learn to play from behind some nights and adjust their game based on the opponent on other nights if they’re going to avoid a third straight spring without playoffs. Against the Senators, the Bruins kept attempting to make plays through the neutral zone rather than chipping or shooting the puck deep.
“When you allow a team to play to their strength, then your execution when you do try to make those plays better be good,” Cassidy said Tuesday. “And I think that was the difference. We didn’t execute well enough. If that’s that approach the players are going to take, then we have to execute better, and we didn’t.”
There were signs of encouragement even in defeat. The rare times the Bruins did execute the coaches’ game plan — usually with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand’s line on the ice, of course — they made life difficult on the Senators and even scored a goal. The Bruins had a handful of extended offensive-zone shifts set up by getting the puck deep and forechecking hard. But those shifts were too few and far between.
“We had too many pucks that were turned over come back down our throat and if we get those pucks deep, make them play in their own end, make them come 200 feet for any offense, I think we sway the scales back in our favor,” forward David Backes said. “But they play a tight neutral zone and make you turn pucks over. But I think we could be a little bit more bought in to what we were told that if they’re stacked up there and the ice behind them, we need to put the pucks behind them and go play in their zone. And maybe the forecheck doesn’t work the first couple times, but eventually you wear them down, you get pucks back, you create offense and you get the win.”
Instead the defensemen often just flipped the puck up for grabs from the defensive zone to the neutral zone. And the rare times the forwards had possession on the rush, those forward marches ended at the Ottawa blue line. Other teams might not be as disciplined as the Senators with a 1-3-1 trap or a variation of it, but the Bruins are going to see plenty of these type of tactics against every team, especially ones they’re fighting with for a playoff spot. That means Toronto, Florida, Philadelphia and the New York Islanders, who are all on the docket between now and the end of the season.
The Bruins aren’t going to have an early lead every night and they’re not going to be able to make opponents play their style of game. They’re going to have to show that the Cassidy spark includes an ability to adapt to situations on the fly. The Senators loss was distressing because the Bruins weren’t flexible with their approach despite the urgings on their coaches.
One day after Ottawa, the Bruins wanted to stress that it was just one loss and it’s “buried,” as Backes said. It’s up to the Bruins now to prove their ability to move on by applying the lessons from the loss and get back on the winning track, starting with the matchup with the Red Wings.