By: Jason Cooke | Follow me on Twitter / X @cookejournalism
After a near-perfect 14-1-3 start to the 2023-24 season, the Boston Bruins have had the longest losing streak of the year thus far. Boston has allowed 17 goals in their last three games amidst a structural collapse that leaves every facet of their game in question. Just when it looked like the team was off to another historic regular season, Boston abandoned their hard-nosed brand of hockey, skating to three ugly losses in a sudden scramble for identity.
While it’s not time to hit the panic button, some areas of Boston’s recent play are cause for concern at the quarter-mark of the season. Jim Montgomery’s Bruins have adopted a style of play that incorporates skill, physicality, and consistency across all three zones. When properly executed, the Black and Gold are a dangerous threat on any given night. After a gut-wrenching 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets last night, the Bruins have revealed what can transpire if they get complacent with their game.
Boston’s struggles have started in between the pipes. The dominant tandem of Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark have collectively carried this team to victory a handful of times this season, posting career-best numbers in the process. However, those numbers have taken a hit. Swayman (.925 SV%) and Ullmark (.917SV%) have been at the nucleus of three embarrassing losses this month. Montgomery elected to pull one of his goaltenders during a game for the first time this season in last night’s loss in Columbus.
“It was a decision I made to try and slow the game down and also let the entire team know that we need to pick it up, we need to go North,” Montgomery said on his decision to pull Swayman late in the second period last night.
Swayman allowed a pair of goals on 19 shots, including a Dmitri Voronkov short-side goal to put Columbus on the board first. Voronkov shot out of the corner, slipping a wrist shot through a stagnant Swayman in an overall lackadaisical effort.
Swayman’s second allowed goal was the last straw for Montgomery. Ivan Provorov flipped a puck at the left face-off dot towards the goal, beating Swayman above the right pad for the 2-0 lead. Ullmark didn’t save the day, allowing two goals of his own on 20 shots. However, the following two goals allowed weren’t a goaltending problem.
Along with the goaltenders, Boston’s blueliners have been sloppy in each loss on the current skid. Last night, Hampus Lindholm (+1) was the only Bruins defenseman with a positive plus-minus. In the team’s 7-4 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday, Derek Forbort (-1), Matt Grzelcyk (-2), Charlie McAvoy (-3), and Ian Mitchell (-2) all fell below the even mark in an ugly defensive showing.
The defensive collapse begins in Boston’s net-front presence. In Saturday’s loss to New York, the Rangers took a 2-0 lead when an uncovered Chris Kreider tapped home a rebound on the power play. Even while on the penalty kill, the Bruins must take pride in protecting the front of their net. Brandon Carlo was positioned at the hash marks, leaving multiple Rangers behind him for an easy goal.
The Bruins defensemen aren’t just struggling on the defensive end. The offensive blueline play has been dreadful, leading to two breakaway goals in the New York and Columbus losses. On Saturday, McAvoy turned the puck over on a lazy pass to Pavel Zacha on the power play that found a streaking Kreider, who slipped behind McAvoy for an easy goal. Last night, Yegor Chinakhov eluded both Boston defensemen for yet another seamless skate to the goal.
Boston’s last line of defense has been soft, lazy, and unaware during this three-game losing streak–but the problems don’t end there. The Bruins have only scored eight goals while allowing 17 in the span in a search for secondary scoring. Led by superstar David Pastrnak’s 13 goals, the Bruins supporting cast of Charlie Coyle (nine goals) and Brad Marchand (seven goals) have been the only reliable source of scoring so far this season.
Matthew Poitras scored his first goal in ten games last night in Columbus, which could light a spark in the youthful forward. While it came in garbage time down 4-0 in the third period, all it takes is one tally for a young player like Poitras to find a consistent groove around the net. Along with Poitras, Boston will turn to Jake DeBrusk and Zacha to diversify the scoring when they find themselves in high-scoring games.
It was unrealistic for Boston to stay on their early season trajectory. Throughout a long 82-game season, hiccups are bound to happen. It’s all about how this team can respond to adversity and return to their winning ways. In the meantime, it’s not time to panic just yet.