Haggerty: Cassidy on the offensive about his defense after Game 2


    Two games into their series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the B’s know they have themselves a series now tied 1-1 and they also know that they have some work to do with their group of defensemen.

    The Bruins dropped Game 2 in overtime by a 4-3 score after the Lightning outshot them by a 39-25 margin and attempted more shots by an 85-54 count that really showed things were pretty one-sided from a puck possession standpoint.

    Certainly, there were things to pick apart, whether it was the lack of secondary offense from everybody beyond the top line not named Charlie Coyle, or some of the goals allowed by Jaroslav Halak in an iffy performance.

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    But the biggest issue in the wake of the overtime loss was the overall play of the Black and Gold defensemen group.

    The immediate issue was the play of the B’s blueliners out for the final overtime shift as Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and the fourth line couldn’t execute on a handful of clearing attempts that could have killed Tampa’s momentum. Carlo had the puck behind the Boston net with plenty of time and space and blindly rimmed it up the boards where it was picked off by the Bolts, and that preceded a number of lost battles that kept the puck in the B’s defensive zone.

    Ultimately, Ondrej Palat swatted the loose puck in at the far post to beat Halak and win the game, but it was Carlo’s clearing decision that was sticking with the Bruins coaching staff after the game.

    “We had a puck alone behind the net [and] you know we just rimmed it to nobody, so that needs to be better. Then we recovered on the wall and tried to make a play through the middle and that got picked off, we didn’t get it out,” said Cassidy. “I just think we need to manage the puck better in those situations. We didn’t and it has cost us at times in the playoffs, but you know it started with the decision to rim the puck when there wasn’t a lot of pressure. It’d be a nice time to put out a fire and make a clean play.”

    The Krug/Carlo pairing was in the crosshairs early in the game as well when Tampa Bay defenseman Zack Bogosian split them both during an unexpected rush into the offensive zone and then flipped a pass to Blake Coleman for the Lightning’s first goal. Both Krug and Carlo waved at Bogosian, but once again didn’t really do enough to shut the play off before it ended up hurting Boston with the puck at the back of the net.

    But it’s also about the other end of the ice as well. While Victor Hedman had a pair of goals in Game 1 and Bogosian and Shattenkirk were key playmakers in two of Tampa Bay’s goals in Game 2, the Bruins D-men haven’t been playing proactively enough to generate offense for the Black and Gold.

    Krug has just one even-strength assist in seven playoff games in these first two rounds and only has two shots on net in the two games played against Tampa Bay thus far in this series. Zdeno Chara has zero points in seven games, zero shots on net in the series against the Lightning and is a minus-3 in the playoffs to this point. Charlie McAvoy has generated excellent offensive chances thus far in the postseason and had a couple of assists in the Carolina series, but he was as quiet as he’s been in the Game 2 loss to Tampa Bay.

    Matt Grzelcyk has zero points in the seven games and has managed more than one shot on net just once in the seven games played against the Hurricanes and Lightning this postseason. And then there’s Carlo, who has one point in the postseason and was one of the problem areas for the Black and Gold in their Game 2 loss.

    The only D-man on the B’s roster who has a postseason goal is bottom-pairing guy Connor Clifton, who wasn’t even in the lineup at the start of the first-round series against the Hurricanes. Given that the Bruins are playing an aggressive, offensive-minded Lightning crew on the back end in this series, it’s an area where Boston needs to step up and play more productively against the rival crew from Tampa Bay.

    “I think our whole D corps has a lot more to give on the offensive side of things. We’re not asking [them] to lead the rush, but we need plays from them when they’re there at the o-zone blue line,” said Cassidy. “Tampa is collapsing [to the net], so we need point shots that are tippable or can create rebound situations. I think we’re capable of more absolutely. If you look at our whole playoffs, we have one goal from Clifton [from the defensemen], a real nice play from behind the net against Carolina.

    Now we need more… in general I think [the defensemen group] is capable of more offensively. We got to get them to where they’re contributing every night in that regard. I mean it’s defense-first for us. We’re one of the better defensive teams in the league for a reason. Those guys are very accountable, they eat pucks, [have] good sticks, [play] physical, take hits, [and do] whatever they need to do. But on the offensive side of things I think the whole group is capable of more.

    Now that they have been sufficiently called out by their head coach, it will be up to the B’s blueline crew to step up and be difference-makers in Game 3 set to be played Wednesday night from the Toronto bubble.

    Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy took the intrigue out of a goaltending decision that wasn’t all that difficult to make, but admitted there are still questions lingering for the Black and Gold headed into tonight’s Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Jaroslav Halak will start his fifth straight playoff game for the Bruins and will play in both ends of the back-to-back in the Toronto bubble, and rookie Daniel Vladar will remain the backup with exactly zero NHL games played on his résumé at this point.

    Halak allowed four goals on 40 shots while losing his first playoff game in a 4-3 OT loss on Tuesday night’s Game 2 against the Lightning, but still has a pretty solid .927 save percentage during these Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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    Perhaps it would have been a chance to spot Vladar a game if the Bruins had gone up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series with Tampa Bay, but it wouldn’t be a wise move with the B’s and Bolts tied up in an evenly-matched series.

    Cassidy did admit the Bruins may end up going with 11 forwards and seven defensemen with a game-time decision to make up front among the forward group. That would counteract the Lightning going with seven defensemen right now with Ryan McDonagh again out for Game 3 with an undisclosed injury.  

    “Halak is scheduled to start. He did not skate on the ice [on Wednesday morning] so he’s recovered well. That’s the plan. And then we’ll have a game-time decision. We may have to dress seven D tonight, take a forward out. We’ve kind of contemplated that going into the back-to-back — on the second night of the back-to-back — that’s something we’re mulling over. We’ll make a decision by game time.

    “Back-to-back game, some guys it’s a heavier workload. You’re playing McAvoy upward of 25 minutes. Just go give — we have some smaller guys that it’s been a physical series for them. So, save a little wear and tear, put some fresh legs in there. The disadvantage of seven D is finding your rhythm as a defenseman. The second part of that is obviously up front, what if we get an injury to a forward? Now you’re really down to 10, so there can be some risk involved in the playoffs, especially considering the tight games we’ve been in like overtimes. That’s where we have to be careful.”

    If it’s based solely on performance, then Anders Bjork could be the guy getting the healthy scratch as a speedy, skilled winger who’s not a perfect fit for the heavy, intense style of play against the Lightning. It’s the inverse of the Carolina series against a speedy opponent where Nick Ritchie wasn’t as effective as he is right now against Tampa Bay.

    Certainly, the Bruins have to be concerned about the wear-and-tear on their smaller D-men like Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk, the aging skating legs of a player like 43-year-old Zdeno Chara and the heavy, heavy workload on Charlie McAvoy’s shoulders. But they also must find a way to activate some offense with their defense corps as Connor Clifton stands as the only defenseman who has scored for the B’s during these Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    Perhaps going with seven defensemen can spark the B’s back-end group a little bit while mixing things up with a forward group looking for more production out of their middle six group of forwards.

    Asked after the Boston Bruins’ Game 2 overtime loss who he’d start in net less than 24 hours later, head coach Bruce Cassidy gave an, « I don’t know. »

    This really shouldn’t even be a question, but in the event that anyone out there is asking, it’s Halak.

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    So far it’s been an up-and-down ride with Halak since he took over for Tuukka Rask in the first round. He was fine in Game 3, terrible in Game 4 and good in Game 5 of the Carolina series. He had a strong Game 1 showing vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning, but looked human in Game 2. 

    So, there’s been good and there’s been bad. Right now, though, up-and-down is better than unknown. Dan Vladar, currently Boston’s backup, has never played an NHL game. Game 3 in the second round of Stanley Cup Playoffs against the best team in the NHL sure would be an easy way to freak a kid out, while also decreasing your team’s chances of winning.  

    Of course, the logic behind sitting Halak in the second game of a back-to-back isn’t about Game 3. It’s about a hopefully deep run with a 35-year-old goalie. If the Bruins played Vladar on Wednesday, it would be in hopes of having Halak fresher and sharper in one or two weeks. 

    To that we can all say, worry about next week next week. Especially with Ryan McDonagh’s status up in the air, the Bruins should be selling out to try to win games now. 

    They failed to do that Tuesday. On one hand, Game 2 was a missed opportunity. Boston had the lead twice and had to come back just to force overtime. On the other hand, the B’s would have been getting away with one had they held on and won. Tampa was better than them the whole way. 

    In addition to having better possession numbers in each of the four periods, Tampa out-chanced the B’s and held a dramatic advantage in high danger chances (15-6). They won a ton of the matchups, and for the first time this postseason, David Krejci was thoroughly outplayed.

    Brayden Point, whose line countered Krejci’s, had a 77.78 on-ice Corsi percentage against Krejci in 5-on-5. That means that when Krejci was on the ice against Point, 77.78 percent (14 of 18) of the shots attempted came from Tampa. 

    All of Boston’s defenders struggled. Their only particularly good line was Bergeron’s. If the Bruins had won despite all these factors, it would have been a very lucky break. The Lightning were the better team and deserved to win. 

    Still, 2-0 would sound a lot sweeter for the Bruins than the situation they currently face: Coming off an overtime loss, they have to play a team that’s outplayed them and should rightfully feel like the better team right now. 

    So, the silliest thing the Bruins could do now would be to put a 23-year-old prospect in net and hope for the best. Starting Halak doesn’t guarantee a win, but it does guarantee that everyone out there will know what they’ve got behind them. 

    The Bruins need better play from most of their lineup. The last thing they need is more uncertainty, so they should start Halak.

    SOURCE: https://www.w24news.com



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