Bruins overcame a lot, but not the loss of three key defensemen

by: Ty Anderson on Mon, 04/24/2017 - 12:10am

Zdeno Chara was the only healthy member of the B's top four defense in this series. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)The Bruins almost overcame a thin lineup that got worse when David Krejci was put back on the shelf for the second time in their first-round series against the Senators. The Bruins almost overcame a litany of straight-up dreadful penalties, including six puck over the glass penalties. They even almost overcame a season’s worth of bad calls and unfortunate bounces while they were at it. 

But at the end of the day, with the Bruins eliminated in Game 6 at TD Garden on Sunday, what the Bruins failed to overcome was the loss of three-quarters of their top four defensemen. 

Although the Bruins waited, and got some of them back on the ice at various points over the course of their near two-week postseason war with the Senators, this was a six-game series loss that came without a single playoff game from the club’s No. 2 defenseman Brandon Carlo, and without power-play quarterback Torey Krug. Adam McQuaid, meanwhile, was last seen in the first period of Game 2. The Bruins also lost Colin Miller for the middle part of the series, too. 

“Well yeah, we were down some men. Good men,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said of his defense. “So, that’s unfortunate. So, yes, walking away thinking think, well we didn’t have our best lineup, the what-if game, I don’t know if that serves a purpose to be honest with you. We had what we had. Those guys came and played hard, so I don’t want to disparage their efforts at all.”

By now, you know the rickety top four defense corps that the Bruins iced in this series; The 40-year-old Zdeno Chara led the charge. Charlie McAvoy, at 19 and after just four professional games, all with the P-Bruins on an amateur tryout, became his partner against the best competition that the Senators could throw their way. Joe Morrow, a player who had played in one NHL game since Jan. 22 at the time of his insertion into the lineup for Game 2, became the club’s left-side option on the second pair, and Kevan Miller played the best hockey of his Bruins career to his right. 

Their inexperience wasn’t overly noticeable (at least not in a negative light) at five-on-five, but the absences of a Carlo, Krug, and McQuaid became noticeable any time we saw a referee’s arm go up. And in this series, that seemed to happen both not enough and entirely too much at all once.

The Bruins finished this series with a 3-for-16 mark on the man advantage. 

It was not a horrible showing, but it’s a mark that probably would have been even better had they had Krug instead of McAvoy on the point of their loaded-up first unit. With Krug in action against the Sens during the regular season, the Bruins went 4-for-7 on the power-play, and Krug himself had a goal and four points (three of which came on the power play) in four head-to-heads with the Senators this year. When the Bruins had a late-game power-play opportunity in the third period of Game 6’s loss, the Bruins struggled to get much of anything on Craig Anderson, and could not find the go-ahead goal. You can’t help but feel as if their overall effectiveness is better in that situation, especially when you factor in Krug’s heavy, direct involvement on the Boston power play this year (Krug had either a goal or an assist in 25 of the club’s 53 power-play goals scored during the regular season).

And skating shorthanded was not the B’s bag like it was during the regular season. 

That was likely a product of both overexposure and being down two of your go-to, right-side killers in Carlo and McQuaid. First, the sheer numbers worked against the Bruins as they took 23 penalties in their round one series defeat. Only the Oilers, who were on the kill 26 times in the first round, took more penalties, at 26. The Bruins were assessed five penalties in each of their elimination games (the Boston penalty kill somehow went a perfect 5-for-5 in Game 5’s double-overtime win), and of the Sens’ three overtime wins, two came by way of a power-play goal and the third came just seconds after the Bruins killed off a penalty. It left the Bruins with an 18-for-23 mark on the P.K, which ranked as the sixth-worst penalty killing percentage (78.3%) through the first round of postseason play. 

“Overtime, penalty kill, it’s almost the summation of all of the series and how it’s gone,” Bruins forward David Backes said of the club’s special teams struggles. “Our penalty kill, which has probably been our strongest facet of the game through the whole season gets scored on twice today. Our power play only gets one so we lost the special teams battle and that’s how you lose games.”

And look at the power-play goals scored on the Bruins in this series and you’ll see just how badly the Black and Gold missed a player like Carlo and McQuaid. On the series winner, the Senators simply torch the right side, which lacked a Carlo or McQuaid, and found an open seam. Before that, Bobby Ryan caused straight-up havoc in front of Tuukka Rask as a net-front presence. And that’s where the loss of Carlo (he finished his rookie season with 87 hits and 115 blocked shots and 2:36 of shorthanded time on ice per game) and McQuaid (he led Boston skaters with 144 blocked shots and ranked among Bruins with 2:23 of shorthanded ice-time per night) loomed large for the Bruins. 

“It’s part of hockey, you know. We can’t be, really, standing here and kind of feeling sorry for ourselves because we lost so many guys,” Chara said. “That’s part of playoffs. That’s hockey, and unfortunately we missed some guys, but very proud of how we battled, how we never gave up.” 

Of the three, only Krug had a realistic shot to return before the end of this series (he had started skated and was progressing in his rehab), and although the Bruins gave it their best shot, the minutes added up, likely before the Bruins even realized it. 

Chara’s 172:35 in round one was the second-most among any defensemen in the playoffs, and only his captain counterpart, Erik Karlsson, played more, with 182:23 in six games. McAvoy’s 157:09 was the seventh-most, and Miller’s 151:27 was the 13th-most (more than guys like Brent Burns, John Carlson, Andrej Sekera, Dan Girardi, and Alex Pietrangelo, just to name a few). 

“We knew there would be a stretch of time we would have to survive. But, these guys would start getting better. But, not quite quick enough unfortunately,” Cassidy said. “Game seven, could we have gotten – Torey had been skating – could he have been available? It’s a what-if game, because he’s the one that’s been skating. But, he’s the only guy that looked like there would have been an opportunity. 

“But yes, we missed Krug, we missed Carlo, we missed McQuaid. No doubt.”

And badly.