Add up the total number of NHL games played by the Bruins' defensemen coming into last night and you end up with around 730. Take out NHL "veterans" Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug and that number drops to 285, also known as a third of Dennis Seidenberg's career GP and a fifth of Zdeno Chara's.
The point is this: No one should be surprised (or even angry, for that matter) at the Bruins' dreadful defensive performance last night.
Your two best defensemen (regardless of your feelings on Seidenberg) are out. Two more of your defensemen have fewer than 30 NHL games under their belt. Your third-most experienced guy has never played a real game for your team before.
Frankly, it's surprising that it was only 6-2.
Frustration is understandable, as is the dreaded "I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed." But last night's game marked the first step in what is sure to be a painful process. It's going to happen again, but it needs to happen in the name of development.
Last night's game had the fingerprints of inexperience and youth all over it.
Dustin Byfuglien read Joe Morrow's breakout pass like a book and picked it off. Matt Irwin and Zach Trotman played a game of "I thought you had him" on more than one occasion. Irwin's teammates left him in a bad spot on his dreadful turnover that led to the Blake Wheeler goal.
And it wasn't just the young D, though they're the easiest targets.
Aside from Patrice Bergeron's line, each line had at least one new guy. Ryan Spooner, who had himself a tough night, and his linemates Jimmy Hayes and Brett Connolly looked like they were trying to figure each other out all night. A few David Krejci passes that may have landed on the stick of Milan Lucic were just out of Matt Beleskey's reach.
I counted five Bruins making their debut last night (Irwin, Rinaldo, Kemppainen, Hayes, and Beleskey), six if you count Brett Connolly, who had limited experience last season. Hard to expect a well-oiled machine from the outset, no?
The point is, the Bruins, especially on the blueline, are a team in transition. The young defensemen need to play to learn. They need to make mistakes to learn, and need to be coached to fix those mistakes.
Same with the forwards. Players will eventually learn to anticipate where their linemates will be. Passes that were an inch or two away will connect. Forwards flying the zone too early will learn to hang back and give their D an outlet.
If mistakes lead to learning, the Bruins did enough learning last night to earn a few PhD's. The good news, however, is that the majority of what plagued the team last night is correctable. Morrow can be coached to safer breakout passes, Trotman can look at the tape and see who should have gone where, etc.
Truthfully, this is the time where Claude Julien and his staff will earn their paychecks (or be shown the door, no matter how many times Cam Neely says Claude's seat isn't hot). Julien now has a handful of young defensemen who have the raw skill to be bottom-4 guys and a system that favors defense and often works to cover up defensive inconsistencies. Can he work these guys into serviceable defensemen?
The ideal scenario for the Bruins at this point is two of Morrow, Irwin, Miller, Trotman (or C. Miller, should he get a look) turn into reliable NHL defensemen. If that comes to fruition, your defense isn't looking as tragic when Chara and Seidenberg return, though it still won't exactly have opposing forwards shaking in their skates.
It's important now for Julien to stay the course, however. Continue to roll the young D out there (though he really doesn't have a choice, which might be a good thing). Have a coach in their ear after every shift. Video, video, video. Practice the breakouts. Give up some goals, prevent some others.
Julien doesn't have the luxuries he's had in the past, including stapling guys to the bench after they make a play like Irwin did on Wheeler's goal. He needs these guys, he should know it, and should be focusing on getting them to play the game his way.
One game doesn't make a season, nor does it mean Irwin, Trotman, Miller, etc. suck. Neither does a five-game stretch. The team is a work in progress.
This won't be the last three- or four-goal loss this season. It probably won't be the ugliest loss. But with time, and with coaching, the mistakes will dry up, the chances will go the other way, and things won't be looking so gloomy at the Garden.