Bruce Cassidy ripped his team for poor defensive play after Thursday’s overtime loss to the Flyers. He did that partly because it has been loose of late, and partly because it would be imprudent of him to plead for help in a public forum.
The coach and his boss, general manager Don Sweeney, understand that the familiar bugaboo that plagued the club last spring — a lack of secondary scoring — has returned. The Bruins, as presently constructed, are reliant on their first line and power play for offense. As such, their margin for error is thin when they are lax defensively. They have lost three straight, and five of the last six (1-2-3), entering Sunday’s showdown at Washington (12:30 p.m., NBC).
Crunching of the numbers underscores a top-heavy club:
■ Boston’s top three goal-producers, David Pastrnak (30), Brad Marchand (19), and Patrice Bergeron (16), have scored 44.2 percent of Boston’s goals. Entering Friday, only three teams were more reliant on their Big Three for wattage. Edmonton got 51.8 percent of its scoring from Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Alex Chiasson; Chicago got 49 percent from Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, and Jonathan Toews; and Colorado got 46.7 percent from Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen.
■ The Bruins on Friday morning had the second-best power play success rate in the league, at 27.8 percent. Only Tampa (29.8) was better. But even-strength scoring was one of the reasons the NHL-leading Lightning (76 points) remained best in class as the calendar flipped to February. The Bolts, No. 1 in goals (198), were also tops in 5-on-5 scoring (127).
The Bruins (61 points) have 45 power-play goals, which works out to 30.6 percent of its total (147). That was the highest percentage of power-play goals to even-strength goals in the NHL. Florida (30 percent) and Colorado (27.8 percent) were close behind.
Pastrnak, Marchand, and Bergeron have scored 60 percent of the team’s power-play goals. Only five teams (Edmonton, Tampa, Chicago, Toronto, and Dallas) relied on their Big Three for a greater percentage of their power-play goals. Typically, a power play does rely on a few stars for production. But opponents are likely aware that shutting down the Bruins’ power play, or denying them opportunities, can mean a total power outage.
■ The Bruins have scored 86 goals at 5 on 5, the fifth-lowest total in the league. Boston’s company at the bottom of the list: Los Angeles (78), Arizona (80), Anaheim (81), Dallas (82), Florida (88), Edmonton (90), the New York Rangers (91), Carolina (92), Vancouver (96), and Minnesota (96).
Boston and Minnesota were the only teams in their respective conferences’ top eight. The Bruins (27-17-7, third place in the Atlantic Division) were the only club among those that should consider itself a trade-deadline buyer come Feb. 25.
■ Part of the lack of scoring was puck luck, as evidenced by the fact the Bruins are generating shot attempts. Their Corsi For percentage (52.51) at 5 on 5 was fifth-best in the league, according to Natural Stat Trick. But of the young scorers the Bruins hoped would come along — Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Ryan Donato, and Anders Bjork — only DeBrusk (14 goals) has produced. Donato and Bjork (injured) are in the minors. Peter Cehlarik and Trent Frederic are the latest call-ups to get a spin.
It is common for second-year players to have a tough go, as opposing teams and their coaches learn their tendencies. The Bruins continue to wait, believing that first-half injuries have prevented them from seeing a roster at full strength.
Thursday was their first game with all players available. The secondary scoring (Pastrnak had both Bruins goals) did not magically appear.
“It just wasn’t good enough,” second-line center David Krejci said after the loss. “I don’t think we deserve [a win] tonight.”
■ Cassidy said he wasn’t worried about Heinen (13 points in 49 games), who has played well defensively. “Danton’s going to keep playing hard for us,” he said. “Try to play the right way, and hopefully the scoring comes around.”
It was tough to see Heinen (16-31—47 as a rookie) miss an empty net with 2:53 on the clock in a tie game, another “almost” in a season full of them.
After Heinen helped create a Flyers turnover, DeBrusk charged down the half-wall and beat two defenders with a saucer pass to Krejci on the doorstep. Krejci settled the puck as netminder Carter Hart sold out to take away the shot. Krejci might have been able to sneak it upstairs, but he saw a better option cruising into the slot.
“The ice was really bad,” Krejci said, when asked if he saw a shooting lane. “I guess I wasn’t comfortable. You have to make decisions in a split-second. I saw Heino, and I saw the puck going in the net, you know, from his stick.”
With four defenders and a diving Hart watching him, Krejci slipped a pass to Heinen, all alone and staring at an empty cage. But he caught the puck on edge, couldn’t settle it, and it tumbled over his blade as he tried to fire.
“It happens,” Krejci said. “One of those things. I thought it was the right play at the moment. Two seconds later, obviously, it wasn’t the right play.”
■ David Backes, who played a team-low 9:44 against the Flyers, still talks like a captain. On Washington, which is 11-0-3 in its last 14 against the Bruins: “What an opportunity to exorcise some demons and get a win, get back on track, beat a team that we’re due to beat and squash all those things at once,” the ex-Blues ‘C’ said. “Take care of business first, and then be able to watch our home team in the Super Bowl after that.” Sounds nice, anyway.
■ Ovechkin and his league-best 37 goals will face the Bruins in his first game since Jan. 23, the result of a one-game suspension he incurred by skipping the All-Star Game. The Capitals, who have allowed 33 goals in their last six games, ended a seven-game losing streak (0-5-2) Friday night with a 4-3 win over Calgary. Their last win before that was against their regular punching bag, the B’s (4-2 on Jan. 10 in Boston).
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports