As one of the league’s more talented offensive defensemen, Torey Krug could have helped the Bruins push the pace through the landmines the Senators scattered in the neutral zone.
Krug, however, was limited to 2:32 of ice time in Thursday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Ottawa at TD Garden. After tangling with Viktor Stalberg along the boards in the offensive zone, Krug left the game with a lower-body injury in the first period. His status is unknown.
“We missed him,” coach Bruce Cassidy said.
Kyle Turris scored the only goal in the shootout. After deking several times, Turris snapped a forehander past Tuukka Rask. Drew Stafford, Ryan Spooner, and David Pastrnak came up empty against Craig Anderson.
For the Senators, it didn’t matter that they were without Erik Karlsson, Marc Methot, Zack Smith, and Bobby Ryan. They executed coach Guy Boucher’s game plan perfectly, setting traps all over the neutral zone, denying clean entries at their blue line, and hounding the Bruins whenever they tried to initiate a rush.
That the game turned into a low-event snoozer didn’t matter to Ottawa. The shootout win helped the Senators clinch a playoff spot and gave them a 1-point lead over the Bruins for second place in the Atlantic Division. Ottawa has one game in hand over the Bruins, who conclude their regular season on Saturday at home against Washington.
If the order doesn’t change, it would set up a first-round showdown against Ottawa for the Bruins. It might not be so kind for the Bruins, who went winless against the Senators in four regular-season games.
“It’s hard to play against,” Cassidy said of Ottawa’s system. “It’s not fun. Not that the game’s fun, but when you’re skating and handling the puck and you’re physical, those parts of the game are going up and you’re playing in all three zones, it’s more enjoyable for everybody. That’s their style of play. It works for them. We’ve got to find a way to get through it. It’s that simple. We’ll look at it. Should we bump into them next week, we’ll just have to find a better way. I still believe we did it in the first period. If you can extend the lead, it forces them to play a little more of the game we prefer to play.”
The Bruins had their best looks in the opening 20 minutes, even after Krug retreated to the dressing room after approximately seven minutes had ticked by. The Bruins sent 15 pucks on Anderson in the first period, one of which got past the Ottawa ace.
After Mark Borowiecki was called for tripping, the Bruins went to work on the power play without Krug, their primary quarterback. The first unit couldn’t solve Ottawa’s penalty kill. But the second unit punched through. Zdeno Chara, manning the point, picked off a clearing pass and sent the puck back down toward the net. Stafford controlled the puck, scooted around the net, and backhanded a shot off Anderson’s left pad and over the line at 10:37.
Frank Vatrano sent five shots on Anderson. John-Michael Liles slipped three pucks on goal.
“I thought we had a good first period,” David Krejci said. “We were getting by them pretty easily. Then things happened. That’s it.”
The Senators tied the game at 7:37 of the second. After a heavy cycle by the Senators, Adam McQuaid tried to clear the puck. But Alex Burrows stepped in front of McQuaid’s clearing attempt. With Viktor Stalberg setting a screen on Rask, Burrows banged in a shot the goalie never saw.
The tying goal allowed Ottawa to settle into its signature system. They were relentless on the Bruins when they tried to carry the puck through center ice. Defensemen, regularly positioned wide at Ottawa’s blue line, were in place to deny any entries along the walls. The Bruins would have been better served chipping pucks forward and forcing the Senators to turn. But Ottawa’s stifling center-ice heat kept the Bruins from executing their plan for gaining entrance into the offensive zone.
Vatrano, Brad Marchand’s first-line replacement, didn’t attempt a single shot in the final 40 minutes. He finished the night on the fourth line with Spooner and Matt Beleskey. Spooner, Krejci, Riley Nash, and Sean Kuraly failed to record a shot.
“They’re trying to get a playoff position,” Cassidy said. “They’re playing to their strengths, defending the neutral zone with numbers. We clearly could have executed better. We tried to put some things in place. But they weren’t working. Not that it was coming back down our throats like it did in Ottawa a lot. But we ended up just icing the puck a lot. We just misfired. At the end of the day, if we’re cleaner there, we probably get a few more attack situations.”