(Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

By: Zach Carlone | Follow me on Twitter @zcarlone21

Coming off of back-to-backs in the NHL with a strong surge is never an easy feat, especially in a shortened season. The Bruins will look to bounce right back against the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road after losing last night’s game against them. Their 4-1 loss shows a lot of continued inconsistency throughout the lineup. It’s a tough pill to swallow for Bruins fans, as the Bruins fired a total of 43 shots on net. The puck drop for tonight’s game is set for 7 pm EST.

Vladar, Steen Debut

Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak had a start to forget last night. The goals from Penguins forwards Evan Rodrigues and Sidney Crosby in the first period proved to be the difference-makers, and most think Halak should’ve had them covered and saved. That wasn’t the case, and he’ll be backing up Dan Vladar tonight. We rarely see NHL goaltenders start two nights in a row, but Tuukka Rask is still out with an injury, which leads to head coach Bruce Cassidy’s decision to start Vladar. It comes at a necessary time, opening up the opportunity for Vladar to perform well in his first career NHL start and get the Bruins in a position to earn their first win since last Thursday.

Vladar, with Providence this season, has played well with fellow goaltender Jeremy Swayman. In 5 games with Providence, Vladar has a 2.01 GAA, and a .923 save percentage. Providence Bruins forward Oskar Steen is also expected to make his NHL debut tonight. In 12 games in Providence this season, Steen has collected three goals and eight points. He’s expected to start the game playing with Nick Ritchie and Charlie Coyle, and Cassidy wants to give him a shot to challenge the other right-wingers to play better and a complete game.

Five on Five Struggles

The Bruins haven’t scored a goal at even-strength in four of their last five games. That statistic is just not characteristic for this team, nor does it feed into the recipe for success. The Bruins can’t point fingers at anyone player or line, either. It’s been a collective inconsistent effort. That being said, the Bruins first line of Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak can’t be counted on to bail the Bruins out every night, and it’s shown over this poor stretch. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy juggled the lines around for the tail end of last night’s game, including splitting up the first line.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are a star-powered yet deep team, much like the Bruins. The depth guys for the Bruins need to start producing on the scoresheet. Once they do, that confidence from producing will hopefully translate to the rest of the lineup. We can see an outcome like the victory we saw at the end of February at Lake Tahoe against the Philadelphia Flyers, where the Bruins scored seven goals. However, that reality seems distant until it actually happens, and the pressure is on for this team to do better. The Bruins are 1-3-1 in their last five games and sit in the fourth spot in the MassMutual East Division, with the Philadelphia Flyers just one point behind.

Coyle, Smith Slumping

It’s clear everybody on the Bruins needs to be better upfront, but of all the forwards in this struggle, the third line needs to be jump-started. We saw David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk finally get on the stat-sheet last Thursday in their last win against the New York Rangers, but the third line has been extremely quiet through March. These guys were brought in to provide the Bruins with some legit secondary scoring, and they haven’t lived up to the hype this season.

Of those folks down in the bottom-six, Craig Smith and Charlie Coyle aren’t producing as many goals as expected. Before being signed in the last offseason in free agency, Smith was known for being a consistent goal-scorer. He’s scored at least 20 goals in five of his last eight seasons. He hasn’t found any spark with Charlie Coyle, who is struggling himself too. Coyle has five goals and eight points in his second full season with the team. There’s no better time to end their slumps than now, especially with the rest of the team struggling.

Bruins Projected Lineup

Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak

DeBrusk – Krejci – Smith

Ritchie – Coyle – Steen

Frederic – Kuraly – Kuhlman

Grzelcyk – McAvoy

Zboril – Clifton

Tinordi – Kampfer