With the Boston Bruins about to begin the month of April and 15 games remaining on their regular-season schedule, there are some areas of concern that they need to address. Despite winning 15 of their last 19 games, the Black and Gold have been far from perfect.
Tuesday night, they were on the wrong end of a 6-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs that was not as close as the final score would indicate. They trailed 6-1 in the second period and rookie goalie Jeremy Swayman had his worst outing in a long time, giving up six goals in 40 minutes. As the calendar turns to April and the playoffs are just a month away, here are three areas of concern that Boston needs to figure out before the Eastern Conference postseason begins.
Bruins Need to Figure Out Bottom Pairing on Defense
The Bruins know what they have with their top four in Charlie McAvoy, Hampus Lindholm, Matt Grzelcyk, and Brandon Carlo, who struggled mightily against the Maple Leafs. Carlo finished with a plus/minus of minus-2, which certainly felt like it should have been higher. He was credited with just one giveaway, but that is being generous.
As for the Bruins’ third pairing of Connor Clifton and Derek Forbort, that was as bad, if not worse, than Carlo’s night. Clifton was on the ice for three of the Maple Leafs’ six goals and Forbort had a defensive turnover that led to a goal. Clifton had been playing well as of late since the trade deadline of March 21, but with every step he has taken forward in the last week-plus, he went backward against Toronto. After the loss Tuesday, coach Bruce Cassidy hinted at possible lineup changes and he held true to his word two nights later.
Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils, Clifton and Forbort found themselves out of the lineup, replaced by Mike Reilly and newly acquired Josh Brown. Both Reilly and Brown made their presence felt early in the game as Brown fought New Jersey’s Mason Geertsen in his first shift and Reilly took a double-minor roughing penalty sticking up for McAvoy who took a big hit from Miles Wood.
Reilly finished with 19:25 in time-on-ice, which included playing in all situations and he also registered an assist on a Brad Marchand second period goal. Brown played just 10:18, with over a minute in a penalty-killing situation. Over the final month of the season, there will be a lot of mixing and matching until the Bruins decide who will be the bottom pairing come playoff time.
Bruins Need to Figure Out Power Play Troubles
It was not too long ago that the Bruins’ power play was ranked in the top five in the league. Since then, they have struggled to the tune of 5-for-29. Captain Patrice Bergeron missed four games during that time with an injury, but regardless, there is still too much talent on the first unit to struggle as badly as they have.
Bergeron returned to the lineup against the New York Islanders on March 26 and the first power play unit looked sharp in their three opportunities. In their first chance, Boston kept the pressure in the Islanders’ zone for nearly the entire two minutes, only to come up empty. In their second chance late in the period, Taylor Hall redirected a pass from Charlie McAvoy for a goal in the 6-3 victory. Against Toronto, David Pastrnak was credited with a goal when his pass attempt deflected off a Maple Leafs’ defenseman and into the net, while against the Devils, they went 1-for-3.
Since Bergeron’s return to the lineup and in the bumper position, the power play has looked better, but if Boston is going to make a run in the postseason, getting more production from not only the first unit, but also the second unit is a must. The Bruins, more than most teams in the league, rely a lot on the success of their power play in close games.
Inexperienced Playoff Goaltending
This may be somewhat of a surprise, but the two goalies on the roster, Swayman, and Linus Ullmark, have nearly zero combined playoff experience. In fact, Swayman is the only one to have stepped on the ice in a playoff game and that was last season in the second round against the New York Islanders in Game 5 at the TD Garden. He replaced Tuukka Rask, with what the team said was injury-related, after the second period in which the Bruins trailed 4-2. Swayman gave up a goal to Brock Nelson after stopping Jordan Eberle on a breakaway. He stopped two of the three shots he faced.
While Swayman has all of 20 minutes under his belt of postseason experience, Ullmark has yet to play in a playoff game. In his first six years in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres, they failed to make the playoffs. This season, Ullmark has 34 games played, while Swayman has 19. The case could be made that despite playing in fewer games, Swayman has played against more of the top teams, especially recently, but for as good as he has been, he had the roughest outing of his young career after giving up six goals in 40 minutes against the Maple Leafs Tuesday night.
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If a decision had to be made today, it most likely would be Swayman starting Game 1 of the playoffs, but things can change. It is also not out of the realm of possibility that both goalies split the games as they have in the regular season. Regardless of who gets the nod, both will be inexperienced and April’s tough schedule can go a long way in preparing them. I’m not implying the Bruins have a goaltending problem, but more of a postseason inexperience issue and determining who will handle the pressure better.
For as well as the Bruins have been playing, they are some things that need to be addressed in the next month. As well as the defense has been playing, they need to figure out the bottom-pairing, as well as get more production from their power play. Goaltending can win or lose a playoff series and with two inexperienced goalies, who is best to handle the pressure of the playoffs? Time will tell.