Bruce Cassidy: ‘Men against boys' in B's loss to Florida


SUNRISE, Fla. – The Bruins had done an admirable job of grinding out one-goal games and accumulating points since losing both Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara to significant injuries a couple of weeks ago.

But it would appear that the pressure of playing near-perfect with their defense, goaltenders and their power play is finally starting to show some cracks, and there were far too many of them in a 5-0 shutout loss to the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on Tuesday night.

The B’s power play was an abject mess that nearly gave up a shorthanded goal in the final minutes of the first period, and didn’t come close to scoring one for Boston. Jaroslav Halak was shaky in the second period while allowing four goals on 20 Florida shots, and allowed a couple of leaky goals to get by him after a stellar first period.

The Bruins puck carriers, both forwards and defense, were sloppy and mistake-prone with 19 giveaways to a Florida group that the B’s skaters most assuredly underestimated. Then there’s the tissue soft defense that didn’t come to play as they have most nights since losing Chara and Bergeron, and made Mike Matheson look like the second coming of Bobby Orr on an end-to-end rush in the second period. Both Ryan Donato and Torey Krug took flimsy waves at trying to separate the player from the puck, but in the end it was the Florida defenseman that exposed some major gap issues with Boston’s defensive coverage.

Put it all together and it had Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy mentioning it in the same breath for his team as the opening night debacle in Washington. Yup, it was that bad.

“Tonight it was men against boys at times it looked like. Some of our players really had their hands full,” said Cassidy. “We’ve got our collective selves together for Thursday because we have a very good opponent coming up [in the Tampa Bay Lightning]. There are no easy answers. What we’ve over the last few weeks as we’ve been depleted in the blue line is that we’ve stayed in games, played good team defense, got good goaltending and our power play has picked us up when we needed it.

“Tonight our power play was not functioning the way it has. I believe that goes in cycles, but our team defense wasn’t good enough. [There were] poor gaps all night. We didn’t move the puck on the back end nearly crisp enough. Once you’re up here you need to make the plays that are expected of you, but we didn’t do it tonight.”

The question now for the Bruins is how much of this shutout loss to the Panthers was a one-game outlier, and how much is the mental strain of playing so many close, one-goal games finally perhaps start weighing the team down?

The B's couldn't do anything defensively to slow down Florida's best players in Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Mike Hoffman (a combined three goals and eight points in the Panthers win), and that's usually a big strength when big No. 33 is back there. 

“Tonight was one of those nights where I don’t think we played to our identity of what makes us successful,” said David Backes. “[We’re usually] being on the inside of pucks and being the more determined team to go in, get the puck in a good spot and win more battles than we lose. When they won more pucks than we did, they made us pay.”

It remains to be seen how much better things will get against Tampa Bay on Thursday night in their building, but the loss to Florida should be a wakeup call that more is needed from many corners of the Bruins roster right now. The B’s have been eking out points with an undermanned roster for the last month and winning games by the skin of their teeth while playing better than the sum of their disparate parts right now.

The Bruins need to get back to that simple, structured and largely mistake-free style if they hope to continue treading water until the injured bodies return. Or there could be a lot more disappointment in the future for an injury-ravaged Black and Gold group that should have been far better on Tuesday night in Florida.  

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