Defensive breakdowns catching up with B's in last few games


BOSTON – With the news that a return for injured Patrice Bergeron might be coming over the next week or so, it really can’t come fast enough at this point for the Bruins.

The Bruins lost their second game in a row when they dropped a 4-2 decision to the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden on Sunday night that featured a few too many defensive miscues at key times, average goaltending and nothing more than decent offense. The most noticeable pattern over the last two losses, Buffalo and Pittsburgh, is that the once-stingy Bruins are hurting themselves a little more often with mistakes in the D-zone. In both games the game-winners happened against the Black and Gold because D-men left their defensive posts in front of the net to chase a puck-carrier behind the net.

Against Pittsburgh it was John Moore getting too aggressive in the D-zone, and against Buffalo it was Charlie McAvoy chasing after Jack Eichel behind the net to leave Sabres sniper Jeff Skinner wide open in front for the game-winning goal. They are simple, costly mistakes in the defensive zone, and not something the Bruins had been doing too much while making due without injured players over the last six weeks.  

“In the last one, Charlie ran behind the net. It was unnecessary. Obviously, you’d like to have that decision over. We did that the other night in Pittsburgh, same type of thing, we ran below the goal line with Johnny Moore,” said Bruce Cassidy. “So we’re going to have to crack that in a hurry because we’ve been pretty solid at that all year so got a little impatient there. Still, it’s a puck that found its way in. It looked like kind of a harmless play we’d hope we’d be able to keep out of our net.”


It probably deserves to be mentioned that McAvoy was the other defensemen stuck below the goal line in that game against Pittsburgh as well. So perhaps the 20-year-old D-men is still sharpening his instincts in the defensive zone a bit.

But what’s the other big defensive takeaway from the Buffalo loss?

They could really use No. 37 and the big 6-foot-9 shutdown guy back in the Black and Gold lineup now that they’ve been out about a month. If those two elite shutdown defenders were healthy and playing on Sunday night, perhaps Jack Eichel wouldn’t have completely dominated the Bruins when it came to winning and losing time in the third period.

Instead it was Eichel roaming free for a sniper shot over Tuukka Rask’s glove hand on one rush, and then Eichel again driving the net and dishing to Jeff Skinner for the game-winner before clinching the empty net goal late in the third period. Perhaps Bergeron could have slowed down his momentum in the attack zone just a little bit, and Chara could have fended him off with his giant wingspan and active stick around the net.

Eichel is obviously an elite talent that’s enjoying a great season with greater talent all around him in Buffalo, but those are the exact kind of players that Chara and Bergeron are paid to stop.

“Turns out none of our match-ups were [good against Eichel]. His line clearly had their way, no matter who we put out there and it ended up being the difference in the game,” said Cassidy. “That was the gist behind it. At the end of the day their best players out played ours, from the goalies to the top line. Another tough one that we probably deserved points in, but we’re not getting them.”


But it’s a would have, could have and should have situation until Bergeron perhaps returns next week, and then maybe Chara comes back a little while after. Until the Bruins have to keep scrapping, tighten up their defense and do whatever they can to learn how to win some of these games where everything isn’t exactly going their way.

“I think to be honest maybe we’re giving up a little bit more [defensively]. But it’s just big momentum shifts in the game where we need a big play and all of the sudden it’s a big play for the other team,” said Torey Krug. “Maybe that’s just where experience kicks in and we’re a team that needs to continue to learn how to win, and come up in those big moments. We’ve done a great job up until this point, so we got to get back to it.”

What the Bruins really need to get back to is their regular style of play with their full lineup. It may happen in the next couple of weeks with healthy players beginning to file back into the Boston lineup, but that wasn’t the case where simple defensive mistakes sunk the B’s against both Pittsburgh and Buffalo in the last few days. 

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