The hint of hesitancy in Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy’s voice when he rattled off the names that would fill out the backline Sunday night against the Washington Capitals made it seem as if he knew he was rolling the dice.
Injuries left the Bruins with a patchwork blue line. Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, Kevan Miller were all out, which meant waiver pickup Jarred Tinordi and Connor Clifton and Steve Kampfer would be thrown into the fire against a Capitals team that’s piled up the fifth-most goals this season.
“We’ll see how that plays out,” Cassidy said at morning skate.
Before Cassidy could blink, things got ugly. The Bruins took an 8-1 beating at TD Garden, taking their third loss in five games. They fell in a 3-0 hole in the first period and never punched back.
The Capitals set a season-high for goals in a single game. The Bruins gave up the most goals they’ve allowed since February 2020, when Vancouver lit them up in a 9-3 loss. The Bruins have only given up five or more goals four times all season, but they’ve done it twice this month.
There weren’t any larger takeaways for Cassidy. He didn’t plan on talking about it with the team that night or Monday with the team getting an off day at the trade deadline. If anything, he said he would try to digest what happened Tuesday with his staff, but otherwise throw it away.
“I don’t think these games are helpful to anyone, to be honest with you — unless your team was arrogant and winning all the time and needed to be taken down a notch,” Cassidy said. “We’re obviously a team trying to play through a stretch here of, A, a lot of hockey, B, again some new people in the lineup.”
The Bruins traded for Ottawa defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, sending a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft to the Senators. They were also reportedly nearing a deal that would net them former MVP Taylor Hall in a deal with the Sabres.
Sitting atop the East Division, the Capitals improved to 27-11-4 while the Bruins, fourth in the division, dropped to 21-12-6.
The Capitals got their first two goals in a 16-second span in the first period. First, they cashed in on a power-play thanks to an interference call on Sean Kuraly and T.J. Oshie got a clean look in the slot of setups from Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov to give the Caps a 1-0 lead. Then Carl Hagelin chased down a loose puck and found Lars Eller in the middle for another score.
“Our start was going to be very important tonight,” Cassidy said. “We had to find a way to stay in the game, we weren’t able to do that and it snowballed on us.”
Conor Sheary made it 3-0 when he finished off a three-man rush with an easy finish through Dan Vladar’s five-hole, and the Bruins could never recover.
Vladar fended off 25 of the 33 shots fired at him.
“Some new goaltenders in the lineup, the last thing they need is 8 on them,” Cassidy said.
When things started seriously spiraling, Cassidy considered calling on Jeremy Swayman even though Swayman was just in net Saturday.
“It’s a tough one for Dan,” Cassidy said. “I guess the message for him is he had to battle through it, but our guys in front of him could have done a better job helping him get through it, but some of them are battling through not being in the league that long either.
Sheary tacked on another goal 4:41 into the second period. Then the Caps closed the second with a flurry of goals from Nic Dowd and Tom Wilson to make the scoreboard even more lopsided, 6-0.
Craig Smith’s power-play goal in the third period kept the Bruins from being shut out for the fourth time in a little over a month.
Cassidy tried shaking up the lines to spread out scorers but didn’t get the results he was looking for.
Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak were all minus-1 with a combined nine shots. Nick Ritchie, David Krejci, and Karson Kuhlman were also all minus-1 with just six shots. Smith, Charlie Coyle, and Jake DeBrusk broke even thanks to Smith’s late score, but only mustered three shots.
Despite the inexperience on the backline, Bergeron said there were no excuses, especially with the number of veterans the Bruins still have.
“There’s also some experience in the locker room and it’s on us to find a way and support those young guys that are coming in and help them out,” Bergeron said. “I think that’s how we’ve approached things over the years and it’s no different.
“Yes, it is adversity. We’re also realistic of that and we saw it and we see it, but at the same time when we’re stepping on the ice, whoever’s putting on that jersey, we expect to do the job.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.