The Boston Bruins currently have the best record in the NHL at 24-4-2, but for the third time this week, they did not play like a team that has a league-high 50 points. After a shootout win over the New York Islanders on Dec. 13, followed by a shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 15, the Bruins once again struggled on home ice, this time against the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets.
Columbus sits at an Eastern Conference worst 10-18-2, which includes a league-worst 2-8-1 road record, with a goal differential of minus-40, but they gave the Black and Gold everything they could handle before the Bruins were able to secure a 4-2 victory. Despite the win, there were still several concerning trends that continued for Boston, but a win is a win and they will take it. Here are three takeaways from the 24th win of the season for the Bruins and the 16th on TD Garden ice in 2022-23.
Bruins’ Still Struggling to Play at Their Pace Consistently
Following practice on Dec. 16 at Warrior Ice Arena, first-year coach Jim Montgomery did not mix words on what he thought about his team’s performance in their last two games against the Islanders and Kings.
“Not only defending but offensively, too,” said Montgomery. “To me, it started at the tail end of the Vegas game. The Colorado game, I thought, was our best game of the year. It started there and our transition has just not been there offensively. I think that gives us a lot of mojo and I think it carries over to we’re not getting as many chances and we’re defending a little more. It just adds to us not feeling great about ourselves. And then you end up in predicaments where you take penalties unnecessarily. Not playing at the pace that we want to play at is what I believe is root of us not playing to my expectations.”
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Before the game against the Blue Jackets, the Bruins honored Patrice Bergeron for recording his 1,000th career point against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 21, which delayed the start about 10 extra minutes after they took the ice. For the first few shifts of the game, the slow starts once again plagued Boston, but they turned it around and played the period at their pace en route to outshooting Columbus 8-0 in the first 10 minutes, before reverting back to their sloppy play and taking several penalties.
Not only was it the penalties, but turnovers and giveaways in the defensive end, allowing odd-man rushes and being forced to be bailed out by goalie Jeremy Swayman, who had to make a season-high 30 saves. The Bruins continue to collect points in the standings, but their sloppy and inconsistent play is starting to be a concern and needs to be cleaned up. Earlier in the season when the Bruins were rolling, they were playing at their pace, and not turning the puck over or giving it away easily. They have not been doing that as of late.
Swayman Gets Much-Need Confidence Building Effort
The last time Swayman was in net, the Bruins lost 4-3 to the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 9 when he gave up four goals on 16 shots, including a Lawson Crouse game-winner with 13.7 seconds left in the game. After Linus Ullmark played the last three games, Swayman was back in goal and enjoyed the confines of the TD Garden.
The case could be made that Swayman stole two points for the Bruins. Most of his 30 saves were high-danger saves as the Blue Jackets got a lot of traffic in front of him and took advantage of defensive zone turnovers and giveaways by Boston, but Swayman was up to the task. At the end of the first period and Columbus with on the power play, Swayman made a glove save on a Marcus Bjork slap shot through a screen. In the second period, he stopped Kent Johnson at point-blank range after he made a move around Connor Clifton. Later in the game, he got help from his best friend, the goalpost, when Patrik Laine beat him, but the puck hit the post and deflected away from the goal.
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Swayman improved to 6-0-1 on home ice with his only loss coming against the Vegas Golden Knights in a shootout on Dec. 5. It was a bounce-back effort that both Swayman and the Bruins needed him to get.
Bruins Fourth Line Provides Spark
Before the game, Montgomery changed up his lines and that included the fourth line. The struggling Craig Smith was inserted back into the lineup for A.J. Greer with Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek and the trio provided a spark in both the second and third periods that were needed.
With the game tied 1-1 in the second period, the Bruins had nearly a minute of offensive zone pressure that resulted in Nosek drawing an interference penalty. On the ensuing power play, David Krejci one-timed a pass from Charlie McAvoy over the shoulder of Columbus goalie Daniil Tarasov. In the third period, Taylor Hall scored for a 3-1 lead, then just 19 seconds later, Nosek scored on the rebound of a Derek Forbort shot for a 4-1 lead, before the Blue Jackets got one back on the power play from Laine to account for the 4-2 final.
The line combined for six shots, three for Smith, two for Nosek, and one for Foligno, but they did what a fourth line is supposed to do, they provided a spark with energy shifts, drew a key penalty, and scored a key goal to give the Bruins some insurance in the final period.
A win is a win and the Bruins will take the two points, but there are a lot of areas they need to clean up. They have two more home games on their current five-game homestand, Dec. 19 against the Florida Panthers and Dec. 22 against the Winnipeg Jets before a big showdown with the Metropolitan Division-leading New Jersey Devils on Dec. 23 on the road. If they want to head into the three-day Christmas break on a winning note, they will have to clean a lot of areas up against three tough teams.