By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins lost to the Washington Capitals on Thursday – not historic news.
Boston has now lost its past 12 games to the Capitals, a streak that dates back to the Obama administration. And with the 2017-18 season series with Washington over before 2018 even arrives, the Bruins won’t have a chance to snap their losing streak until next season.
While the Bruins were winning five in a row and eight out of 10, there was nothing to write about but rainbows and unicorns. Now they’ve faced some adversity that they’ll have to overcome when they get back in action in Ottawa on Saturday.
Here’s some negative next-morning thoughts I’ve been dying to share after the Bruins finally lost:
*For a while it looked like Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy had no weaknesses, but now we know where he’s fallible – post-regulation decision-making.
Cassidy benched Torey Krug for the final 4:34 of regulation.
“I think Torey needs to be cleaner with the puck and have more pace with his game,” Cassidy told the media in Washington. “That’s when he’s at his best is when his gaps are good, he’s killing plays and then helping transition. And I think lately the gap has been the issue a little bit for him for whatever reason. We’ve got to get him back into the play, back being assertive.”
That’s all well and good for 5-on-5 but benching Krug for 3-on-3 overtime was Cassidy cutting off his nose to spite his face. Instead, Brandon Carlo — who’s nobody’s idea of an offensive dynamo — got a couple of ineffective overtime shifts.
If Krug needed to be disciplined, fine. But by the time overtime rolled around, the veteran had probably gotten the point. He still would’ve given the Bruins a much better chance of getting the extra standings point and avoiding the coin-flip shootout than Carlo.
Similarly, speedsters Jake DeBrusk (3:56) and Anders Bjork (4:14) didn’t see the ice for the final moments of regulation. If Bjork’s three shifts in the third period rendered him rusty and unavailable for overtime, fine. But DeBrusk had been playing a regular shift and few Bruins have the open-ice capabilities of the rookie.
Cassidy was far too worried about defensive responsibility in 3-on-3 overtime than necessary, a shocking variance from his normal attacking mindset – proof that even coaches have off nights.
*I won’t beat Cassidy up too much for this because Riley Nash has been a hot hand lately and has shown some fine breakaway moves even when he doesn’t finish. But Charlie McAvoy is 2-for-2 in shootouts this season and has had a couple of the best shootout goals around these parts since the days of young Phil Kessel. The kid has to be in your top three shooters at least until he misses one.
*The Bruins didn’t challenge Lars Eller’s goal that cut Boston’s lead to 2-1 even though replays showed the play was offside. They challenged Brett Connolly’s game-tying goal at 3-3 even though it was clearly onside. I’m going to assume that the 99-percent transparent Cassidy was just thinking out loud and not making excuses when he said after the game, “I’ll be honest the monitor is not the easiest one to see down there.”
The sin wasn’t so much letting the first goal go without a challenge; it was using the challenge on the second one without being completely certain. If it didn’t make sense to risk a penalty for being wrong up 2-1 in the second period, it definitely made no sense to risk a Capitals power play at 3-3 in the third. The Bruins killed the penalty, which Cassidy thanked his players for. The players should follow up by getting Cassidy a bigger monitor he could travel with.
*Back to Bjork, Cassidy blamed the wing’s 6:53 of ice time on a combination of a lot of special teams play in the game and a drop-off in the 21-year-old’s play without the puck.
“Tonight I thought he wasn’t quite on top of pucks like he was the other night [Wednesday vs. Ottawa], in terms of his angles and how he reloaded above,” Cassidy said. “And that’s just a learning curve for a young guy, where to go, how to best create turnovers maybe for the next guy, not only for yourself.”
Cassidy also said Bjork has “earned the right to be here” but broached the subject of whether it’s better to have the first-year pro play 20 minutes a night, presumably in the AHL.
This is a dilemma the Bruins are going to have to solve soon. Adam McQuaid is ready to play, and David Krejci and Peter Cehlarik may not be too far behind. There are going to be some difficult lineup decisions for the surprisingly 20-10-6 Bruins.
Although the Bruins could’ve used McQuaid against the heavy Capitals, I won’t second guess him being scratched again because I’m a firm believer in sticking with the lineup that won five in a row.
However, they can’t keep their injured players out of the lineup forever (although Cehlarik’s absence could be extended by a stint with Providence). Regardless of any promises that have been made or how well Bjork has played in stretches, the best way for general manager Don Sweeney to manage assets will be to give Bjork his first AHL time, especially if Bjork is going to fall out of the rotation as often as he does. Even a couple of weeks down in Providence could benefit Bjork’s development and alleviate some of Boston’s roster tension until there’s another injury or someone really starts to slump.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.