The Boston Bruins haven't faced a ton of adversity, at least in the regular season, since Jim Montgomery took over as head coach before the 2022-23 campaign.
They rampaged through the NHL last season en route to a record 65 wins and 135 points as the Presidents' Trophy winners. They didn't lose back-to-back games until late January, and it happened just twice all season. They lost three straight games once, and it was their longest losing streak.
The B's started out this season on fire, too. They jumped out to a franchise-best 9-0-1 start and currently sit tied atop the Eastern Conference standings with 31 points (14-4-3).
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But they are going through a pretty strong period of adversity right now.
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The Bruins suffered back-to-back losses over the weekend to the Detroit Red Wings (5-2 on Friday) and New York Rangers (7-4). Boston's defense and goaltending were poor in both games, but in fairness, the Red Wings and Rangers are two of the Eastern Conference's best teams. Not the end of the world, right?
Monday night's loss, which extended the B's skid to three games, was very different.
Getting dominated in a 5-2 loss to an awful Columbus Blue Jackets team that owned the conference's worst record at puck drop is flat-out embarrassing.
The game wasn't ever close, which was also pretty discouraging. The Blue Jackets took a 1-0 lead with 4:08 left in the first period, then scored twice in the second period to go into the intermission up 3-0. Columbus also led 4-0 before ultimately winning 5-2.
"I thought every part of our game tonight was tough, to be honest," Montgomery told reporters after Monday's defeat. "I thought we had a pretty good start over the first eight to 10 minutes, and then they slowly but surely started to take over the game. I thought we lost stick battles. I don't think we were physical. There were a lot of areas of our game that flat out we weren't good enough."
What's plaguing the Bruins right now? Several things.
The goaltending, which was so elite over the first 10 games, has fallen considerably. Boston's save percentage was a league-best .947 over the first 10 games. It's dropped to .897 over the last 11 games, which ranks 14th during that span. Jeremy Swayman was the league's top goalie over the first month of the season, but he has lost four of his last five starts, while posting a lackluster .895 save percentage and a 3.60 GAA in those matchups. He gave up two goals in 26 minutes versus the Blue Jackets before Montgomery pulled him in an attempt to spark his team.
"It was just a decision I made to try and slow the game down and let the entire team know that we need to pick it up," Montgomery said Monday night when asked about pulling Swayman. "We need to go north."
It's not all goaltending, though. The B's are 21st in scoring chances allowed, 20th in high-danger chances allowed and 26th in goals allowed over the last 11 games. The team defense -- whether it's gap control, positioning, defending the rush, taking bad penalties, not breaking up seam passes, losing too many 1-on-1 puck battles, etc. -- has been lackluster for weeks. The Bruins had the top-ranked penalty kill over the first 10 games. Their PK ranks 17th in the last 11. They've given their opponents 14 power-play opportunities over the last three games. That's way too much, and shows a lack of discipline rarely seen by the Bruins.
Montgomery has tried a lot of different things to wake up his team. He did a bag skate during practice after a loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 11. He pulled Swayman after just two goals Monday night, then followed that up by pulling Linus Ullmark with about seven minutes left in the third period to get an extra attacker on the ice. He's mixed up the lines quite a bit, too.
The Bruins are still tied for the best record in the league and hold a four-point lead over the Florida Panthers for first place in the Atlantic Division. It's only November -- there's a lot of games left to play. But the ugly defense and goaltending isn't just a two or three-game issue. These areas weakened over the last 10 or 11 games.
The Bruins did well to build such a large lead in the standings over the first month of the season, but if they don't correct these issues soon, that lead will quickly evaporate. Getting in some practice time this week, which they haven't had much of because of their recent schedule, should really help.