Bruins Stuck in Neutral on the Road

With a 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday evening, the Boston Bruins continued an unfamiliar and concerning trend in 2018-19, mediocre play while away from the friendly confines of TD Garden.

After a substantial stretch as one of the true road warrior franchises in the National Hockey League with a 234-143-57 regular-season record (525 of a possible 868 points) over the past 11 seasons, the Bruins have regressed towards the .500 mark, something that only happened once since a forgettable 2006-07 season under head coach Dave Lewis.

Two months later, Claude Julien took over and subsequently led his teams to 20-plus road wins in seven of eight full seasons, excluding a lockout-shortened 2012-13, where they finished 12-9-3. The lone exception came two seasons later when the Black & Gold struggled to a 17-17-7 mark and missed the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.

Claude Julien
The Bruins finished with a road record of .500 or worse just once in Claude Julien’s eight-plus seasons as head coach. (Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports)

Julien’s successor, Bruce Cassidy, has helped to carry on the winning tradition after taking over on Feb. 7, 2017. Under the latter, the Bruins started out 52-34-13, leading to the current campaign. So, what (or whom) is to blame for the ongoing road struggles in what has otherwise been a successful season? Here’s a month-by-month breakdown of the B’s results away from home.

Opening Night Onslaught Highlights Obstacles of October

The season got off to as bad a start as it could for the Bruins, who were emphatically embarrassed 7-0 by the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals when they raised their banner on Oct. 3. The hosts opened the scoring 24 seconds in, led 2-0 after one period and 6-0 after 40 minutes. Tuukka Rask was chased after five goals on 19 of the Capitals’ 37 shots on goal.

To their credit, the Black & Gold bounced back the next night, soundly beating the Buffalo Sabres 4-0 in their home-opener. After three consecutive wins at home, the Bruins took to the road again with Rask yielding three first-period goals in a 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames.

Tuukka Rask Bruins 2017
Tuukka Rask surrendered 10 goals on 48 shots in his first two road starts this season. (Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports)

One night later, the B’s again sat through a home-opener ceremony before a 3-2 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers that was capped by Leon Draisaitl. Two nights after that it was Bo Horvat’s turn, giving the Vancouver Canucks a 2-1 overtime win. Ensuing victories over the Ottawa Senators (4-1) and Carolina Hurricanes (3-2) concluded the month at 3-2-2 on the road.

Trio of One-Goal Losses in November Starts at Nashville

A spectacular 39-save showing from backup Jaroslav Halak exactly one month into the season went for naught in a 1-0 loss to the Nashville Predators. A 3-1 homestand preceded the month’s biggest letdown, a 6-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

The Bruins did well in jumping out to a 3-1 advantage early in the second period before surrendering five unanswered goals, including three via the power play. The All Star-studded top line of Gabriel Landeskog (goal), Nathan MacKinnon (goal, assist) and Mikko Rantanen (goal, two assists) combined for nine of the Avs’ 25 shots to outshine the ‘Perfection Line’ of Patrice Bergeron (assist), Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak (goal, assist).

Brad Marchand David Pastrnak Patrice Bergeron Bruins
The top line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron were badly outplayed in a November loss to the Colorado Avalanche. (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

Two nights later, on the front end of a back-to-back, the Black & Gold suffered a second 1-0 loss in the month as Jason Dickinson’s OT winner was all the goal scoring needed for the Dallas Stars, who landed 37 shots on goal. A two-goal first period held up an evening later in a 2-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes (33 shots). Consecutive 3-2 results, an overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings and win over the Montreal Canadiens to conclude another back-to-back preceded a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs (31 shots), dropping the Bruins’ road record to 5-5-4.

Sunshine State Sweep, Carolina Collapse Among Dregs of December

The first of the B’s typical pair of two-game swings through the Sunshine State proved fruitless, after losses to the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. In an atrocious opener, the hosts scored four times in the second period on Halak, who faced 44 shots. Two nights later, the Bruins led 1-0 before yielding three unanswered tallies to the Lightning, who landed 30 shots on Rask.

On the strength of a Torey Krug OT winner, the Black & Gold secured an extra point in Ottawa, ending the first of three back-to-backs. A hard-luck, 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 14 in which the Bruins erased deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 momentarily halted the momentum with Casey DeSmith turning away 48 Bruins shots. After a convincing, 4-0 win in Montreal concluded the second back-to-back, the B’s let another lead slip, this time in Carolina. Trailing 2-0, the Canes scored four unanswered goals on Rask, who faced 37 shots in the final game before Christmas.

Boston Bruins Jaroslav Halak and Florida Panthers Aleksander Barkov
Jaroslav Halak was peppered with 44 shots in a lopsided 5-0 loss to the Florida Panthers in December. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

Perhaps the three-day break was what the doctor ordered as the Bruins, and Rask in particular, have begun to turn things around ever since, starting with a come-from-behind win against the Buffalo Sabres. Jake DeBrusk tied the game at 2-2 with 2:31 left in regulation before Sean Kuraly ended it in overtime, sending the Bruins into the new year on a high note at 8-9-4 away from home.

Bruins Nearing Normalcy in New Year

Starting with a six-years overdue NHL Winter Classic against the Chicago Blackhawks at scenic Notre Dame Stadium, the Bruins are slowly but surely finding their footing on the road. They erased two deficits before scoring as many unanswered goals to secure a 4-2 victory. Rask finished with 36 saves.

Another beneficial break, via the league’s mandated five-day bye week, meant 11 days until their next away game, a 3-2 win in Toronto, capping the season’s first three-game road winning streak. Rask was again instrumental with 30 stops. The Bruins took a step back with a 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers who erased a two-goal, first-period deficit led by Sean Couturier’s hat trick.

Boston Bruins David Pastrnak NHL Winter Classic
David Pastrnak and the Bruins prevailed, 4-2, over the Chicago Blackhawks at the NHL Winter Classic. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Before the aforementioned shootout loss to the Rangers (39 shots), which left their road record at 11-10-5, the Bruins secured a signature road win on Feb. 3, exacting a measure of revenge with a 1-0 win at Washington. The Super Bowl Sunday victory snapped a 14-game losing streak against the Capitals.

It seems that no one thing (or individual) is to blame for the level of mediocrity seen to date. Through a combination of inconsistency from the back end out, leading to rather high shot volumes (30-plus against in 15 of 26 games), the Bruins have let various leads slip away in nine road games, seven of which ended in losses. Oddly enough, they stand at 7-3-5 in one-goal games, proving that come playoff time, they’re more than capable of winning close games away from home.

Should the strong play of late continue through the stretch run and into the playoffs, no opponent figures to feel too safe with the Bruins in town.