This, somehow, was not the worst defensive mistake the Bruins made in their 7-4 loss to Buffalo on Thursday night. - Alex Trautwig
Buffalo beat the Bruins, 7-4, on Thursday in a game that featured more defensive breakdowns than the Bruins exhibited in their previous six games combined.
So, the Bruins lost Thursday night. The Buffalo Sabres came into Boston and embarrassed the Bruins' with a 7-4 win that featured less violence than anticipated and far more defensive breakdowns than most can remember from a Bruins team under Claude Julien.
Following the game, terms like "brain dead" and "brain fart" came from the mouths of Bruins players and coaches. Quite appropriately, too, as nearly every Buffalo goal resulted from a bit of dreadful defensive decision-making and even worse execution from the Bruins.
The Sabres are a fast team with bags of skill throughout their top six forwards. It's difficult enough to neutralize players like Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Tyler Ennis when they're defended perfectly. On Thursday, every Boston defenseman had at least one woeful mistake that left passing and shooting lanes wide open. The Sabres capitalized and left Boston with a well-earned pair of points.
The Sabres scored seven times on Thursday; six came with Tuukka Rask in goal before Pominville's empty-net marker put the game even further away. Of the six goals Rask allowed, not one was a shot he should have saved. Three, however, were particularly inexplicable given the pride Julien's Bruins take in winning games with strong defense and reliable goaltending.
Vanek made it 1-0 Buffalo 1 minute, 38 seconds into the second period. On this particular goal, it was a Zdeno Chara turnover on a failed zone entry that sent Vanek and Cody Hodgson up the ice to toy with Johnny Boychuk. Defending a two-on-one isn't a simple task for any defender. However, the Bruins have showed they can erase these mistakes and opportunities as well as anyone. Boychuk demonstrated on this play that they can fall victim to them just as well.
Instead of eliminating Hodgson's passing option and forcing a saveable shot, Boychuk drifted to the puck carrier in the right circle leaving Vanek with more time and space than he's probably seen since his peewee days in Austria. He effortlessly fired the pass by Rask who needed to be beyond brilliant to keep that puck out of the net.
More defensive mistakes followed, whether it was leaving Tyler Ennis all alone in front of Rask or Chara deciding the last place his stick needed to be was on the ice to defend another two-on-one. This time, it was Vanek to Hodgson, but that hardly changed the outcome. It almost didn't matter who was leading the rush or waiting for the shot. As long as it was a Boston defenseman back there, the Sabres were guaranteed a goal.
It's one loss and it's two points, and a trip to Toronto awaits the Bruins. There hasn't been a better remedy for the Bruins than an evening with the Maple Leafs in recent years. Still, dropping points to a team likely to challenge the Bruins for the Northeast division title and a top three seed in the manner we saw on Thursday is unacceptable.
There's no shame in losing to the Sabres. They're a difficult opponent. They're inconsistent as anyone, but their mix of skill and goaltending means they can put together some fantastic hockey. Making it as easy for them as the Bruins did on Thursday is the problem. The injury that dovetailed so perfectly with the insult is of course the concussion Shawn Thornton, a hockey player, suffered after John Scott, a sideshow, punched him in the head a handful of times in the first period. Thornton is tentatively said to miss seven to 10 days; but it's a concussion, so let's all agree on "indefinitely" for No. 22.
Friday morning, the Bruins said all the right things after a night most in that locker room would do better to forget. They said they'll move forward. They said they don't get too high after wins, and they won't get too low after this loss. Forget about all that, though. The Bruins didn't lose on Thursday because Tuesday's win over New Jersey made them overlook Buffalo. They lost because they forgot to do the things that make them successful.
Efficient play in the neutral zone. Smart puck management. Sound defensive play that neutralizes inevitable mistakes. Hallmarks of Boston Bruins hockey. Or, simply, nothing they showed on Thursday night.