The Bruins came out slower than the 8:30 Commuter Rail to Rockport Sunday night and recovered in time — though it took a verrrrry long time — to bank a point in their 3-2 shootout loss to the Flyers at the Garden.
We turned the clocks back a week ago Sunday morning, back in the old golden and glory days when the Bruins were the hottest team in the NHL. Ever since, much like the Commuter Rail, it’s gone off the tracks for the Black and Gold.
Have you felt out of synch the last week, lost how to explain gaining an hour on the clock messed up your life? Irritable? Short-tempered? No idea what condition your condition is in from one minute to the next?
Well, call it the Bruin in you.
The sons of Bruce Cassidy cobbled together only 10 shots through the first two periods vs. the Flyers. They finally mounted a push in the third, piled up 17 shots, and cashed in with goals from Danton Heinen and Brad Marchand. The L’il Ball o’Hate summoned his best Joe Sakic imitation on the equalizer, lasering an off-the-back-foot wrister past Carter Hart with 7:38 to go in regulation. A mesmerizing shot, and one of less than a handful of really entertaining, big-league plays the Bruins were able to summon all night.
This has been a strange stretch for last season’s Cup Finalist. Before the 1-2-1 (.375) post-Daylight Savings run of the last seven days, the Bruins were the only NHL team still with but one regulation loss all season. They were a half-step from invincible.
A week later, they look only half with it.
“I find it hard to temper what I want to say,” said Cassidy, when asked postgame if the strong start (10-2-2) to the season provided his charges some cover, perhaps sparing them too much of his criticism now when they’re in the early-November doldrums. “Maybe the message is a little less ornery.”
If the trash cans were going to fly, and the cups of Powerade and energy bars were to get tipped over, it might have been after the first 40 minutes vs. the distant sons of Dave Schultz. The Bruins mustered but five shots (to Philly’s 14) in the first, the visitors able to bolt out to a 2-0 lead. The Bruins came back with only five more shots in the second.
Had the clock really been turned back but one hour, or had it been turned back to 1996-97 when last place ultimately delivered No. 1 pick Joe Thornton?
After 40 minutes, the reaction from the fans sitting in those tight-fitting “Legendary Makeover” stands: a mix of applause (perhaps a gesture of relief) and a smattering of boos.
As another coach in town might have said, not what the locals were looking for.
“It certainly wasn’t after the second period,” continued Cassidy, explaining further his mind-set of how to handle a team that came within 60 minutes of winning the Cup. “We’ve talked about this enough, so to go in [the dressing room] and [tear] a strip off players, I don’t think would have been effective tonight. I think they were frustrated — Philadelphia was playing us well. We had 10 shots in two periods, right?’”
Right. In a wrong sense.
“We’re better than that,” said the coach.
Instead, Cassidy noted, the second intermission in his dressing room was devoted to X’s and O’s. With specific emphasis on the offensive zone, how to act in what had been foreign turf, if they were finally able to get across the blue line and in possession of the puck long enough to do something with it. For the first 40:00, they funneled in and out of there faster than the Dunkin’ Drive-thru on Monday morn.
“They were collapsing,” said Cassidy, crediting Philly’s defensive effectiveness, which was quite impressive, given the Flyers played 24 hours earlier in Toronto while the Bruins enjoyed a day’s respite following a ho-hum effort (and loss) in Detroit. “How can we space ’em out? How can we get some [offensive] looks? The second goal was a good example — we pulled a forward out high, to unclog some lanes, so to speak, and I thought it worked well for us.”
The result was a short dish by defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, isolating Marchand high in the left wing faceoff circle, and the Li’l Ball o’Hate delivered his blistering Sakic-like missile to the top right corner.
Night salvaged. Or at least a point.
Cassidy understands full well that 1-2-1 is not a formula for a comfortable spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Then again, no team this side of the 60-8-12 Canadiens of 1976-77 is going to carry a 10-2-2 pace through the NHL’s 82-game schedule. Not even a team with the likes of Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak playing as the East Coast’s Triple Crown Line.
“At the end of the day, we do need to be on time,” said Cassidy, the slow start obvious. “That’s when we’re at our best. I think [the players] understand that and I think every team would. So we’ll keep hammering away on that.”
The lull was anticipated. It comes to every team, every season. For the Cup winner. And the Cup runner-up. And lesser teams throughout the Original 31.
“I don’t know if it’s an energy issue right now,” noted Cassidy. “We talked about sometime — maybe the residual effect of last year — maybe it’s kicking in earlier than we thought. I don’t know. We’ll talk to the players about that and see where it leads.”
Last Monday night it led to the Bruins having to mount a late surge to beat Pittsburgh after seeing a 3-0 lead turn into a 4-3 deficit. Then came a loss to the Habs and another to the sad sack Dead Wings. Not good enough and clearly not remotely close to the standard they set in October.
It’s early in the season, but it’s time for the Bruins to get that hour back, and their game along with it.