Nick Goss

Four issues plaguing Bruins as they slump into holiday break

The B's are still in first place in their division, but they have several issues to fix.

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The Boston Bruins have reached their three-day holiday break with their worst losing streak in four years.

The B's lost 3-2 to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night, extending their skid to four games. It's the team's longest losing streak since Dec. 7-12 of 2019. The Bruins ultimately won the Presidents' Trophy during that COVID-shortened regular season, but it remains to be seen whether the current roster has that same ability.

The truth is there have been issues plaguing the Bruins for over a month. They are giving up way too many shot attempts, shots on net and scoring chances. Several players are not producing enough offensively. These problems have largely been nullified by elite goaltending through 32 games, but at some point these mistakes begin to result in losses, and we're starting to see that right now.

The Bruins are still in a pretty good spot, though. They own the Eastern Conference's second-best record at 19-7-6, which gives them a four-point advantage over the Toronto Maple Leafs for first place in the Atlantic Division. Boston's early-season dominance gave the team a little bit of a cushion to have a losing streak and not lose its grip on first place. But that margin is getting very thin, and without immediate improvement, the Leafs could pass the Bruins pretty soon.

Here are four specific issues hurting the Bruins as they enter the break.

1) Blown leads

The Bruins have had trouble protecting leads lately. They've blown a third-period lead in three of their last five games. They've surrendered a lead of some kind in four of the last five games.

Boston was the best team in the league last season when leading after two periods with a .940 win percentage. When the playoffs started, those third-period leads all of a sudden weren't as rock solid. The B's blew a third-period lead in both Game 6 and Game 7 of their first-round series against the Florida Panthers and were eliminated.

This season, they are 13-1-5 when leading after two periods, which looks OK, but it also represents the third-worst win percentage (.684) when leading going into the third period.

For whatever reason, the Bruins' execution and compete level, particularly in front of their own net, have been lacking in the third period this season. The B's have a minus-1 goal differential (36 for, 37 against) in third periods, which is way down from their league-leading plus-54 goal differential in the third period last season.

2) Too many penalties

The Bruins have taken 25 penalties over the last five games, which is tied for the fifth-most of any team during that span. They have a minus-four penalty differential in that span, too.

Not only are the Bruins taking more penalties than usual, their penalty kill is not succeeding at the same rate it was earlier in the season. The B's have allowed a power-play goal in each of the last five games and seven total over that span. Their penalty kill has the fifth-worst success rate (63.2 percent) in that stretch.

Wild forward Joel Eriksson Ek got prime position in front of the net during a power play Saturday night and was able to capitalize on a rebound without much resistance from the Bruins.

The injury to veteran defenseman Derek Forbort, who has been one of Boston's best and most reliable penalty killers for a few years, is a tough blow to this unit. But there are more than enough capable penalty killers on this roster for it to be a top 10 group.

The Bruins still have the third-best PK at 85.3 percent, but lately it's been a weakness and not a strength.

3) Hampus Lindholm's lack of offense

One of the reasons why the Bruins went from No. 15 in goals scored in Bruce Cassidy's final season as head coach and all the way up to No. 2 in Jim Montgomery's first season was the defensemen contributed a lot more offensively. Hampus Lindholm led that charge with a career-high 53 points (10 goals, 43 assists). He played like a true No. 1 defenseman and finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting.

This season has been far different, and not in a good way.

Lindholm has tallied only seven points (one goal, six assists) in 32 games. He was scoring 1.71 points per 60 minutes last season, and he's all the way down to 0.55 this season, per Natural Stat Trick. He's gone from 0.32 goals per 60 minutes last season to only 0.08 this year. That's a massive decrease.

Lindholm is still playing well defensively, but the offense just isn't there. And it really needs to pick up for the Bruins because their current roster is nowhere near as deep or talented offensively as it was in 2022-23.

Nov 25, 2023; New York, New York, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Hampus Lindholm (27) looks to pass against the New York Rangers during the third period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

4) Scoring drought

The Bruins have scored two or fewer goals five times in their last eight games. They scored only one goal in four of those matchups. The Bruins have the best goaltending tandem in the league, but it's still pretty tough to win games when you score only one goal.

The Bruins rank 22nd in total goals scored and 24th in 5-on-5 goals scored. They ranked No. 2 in both categories last season. This lack of scoring puts a ton of pressure on the goaltenders, and for the most part, Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark have bailed out the Bruins when the offense has struggled. But that's not a winning strategy long-term, especially in the playoffs when the quality of competition is at its highest.

There are a bunch of players who need to step up offensively. Brad Marchand has scored only one goal in his last seven games. Jake DeBrusk has been the team's most disappointing player this season. He was expected to hit the 30-goal mark for the first time. Instead, he has four goals in 31 games. He currently has a 10-game goal drought with only two points during that span. Pavel Zacha is having a good season, but he hasn't scored in his last seven games. James van Riemdsdyk had a nice start to the campaign, but he has just one goal in his last 15 games.

Secondary scoring will again be something that general manager Don Sweeney must look to upgrade before the trade deadline. In the meantime, guys like DeBrusk and Lindholm have to produce more offense on a consistent basis.

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