The shot count rarely paints a useful picture of any hockey game, but when it does...it really does. If the Bruins’ 3-1 loss to the Ducks was Tuesday night’s painting, their five shots on goal through the first period were all Bob Ross.
The sluggish start -- undoubtedly one of the worst this season -- was alarming, but at first it didn’t seem as detrimental as it would prove. The Bruins had given up the first goal for eight straight games, so The Point Streak’s swan song didn’t sound when the puck flew off Jakob Silfverberg’s stick and deflected off Zdeno Chara right into Anton Khudobin’s net halfway through the first. Chalk it up to All Star break rust at your own discretion, but in retrospect...well, Bruce Cassidy said it best postgame:
“[Khudobin] would be the first to tell you, he just kind of whiffed on it. He was like the rest of our team in the first period – not very good. I can’t sugarcoat it.”
An Adam Henrique power play snipe extended the Ducks’ lead to two with 6:01 left in the first, and maybe then you started to long for Charlie McAvoy and Tuukka Rask. You may have whispered “Get well McAvoy” into the void extra poignantly when the clock ran out on that lifeless first period and you realized how brutal the Bruins’ transition game looked without their stud of a rookie.
“We just didn’t have it early,” Cassidy put it simply. “I don’t know if it’s credit to them, or just our guys, or the break, whatever the case was...it wasn’t good enough.”
It all just looked so difficult. Even when the effort seemingly missing from the first reared up in the second, frustrating play after frustrating play refused to connect. An early period power play sparked puck possession, then came more chances -- and the hungry Bruins swarmed around the net for their rebounds. Somewhere in those middle minutes of the second, though, it became clear: The Bruins can win some games without Brad Marchand, but they weren’t winning this one. Not without his impeccable grit-to-skill ratio.
“He’s a point a game guy, so he probably makes a difference,” Cassidy half-joked.
And wait...what about Noel Acciari? The fourth line had been clicking with the kind of chemistry you never quite appreciate until it’s gone. It was gone-as-ever in his absence Tuesday. So were McAvoy, Marchand and any semblance of normal lines, especially when Francois Beauchemin cross-checked Anders Bjork in the shoulder and he was gone for the game (and out indefinitely; upper body). Eventually the Bruins’ 18-game point streak was gone, too. As gone as 1969 -- the last time they accomplished such a feat in Bobby Orr’s third season.
This Bruins team has proved it can win while injured, but Tuesday’s shortcomings were a perfect storm of no top scorer, no top defender, no unsung fourth-liner, no Tuukka Rask and a desperate opponent that has now won eight consecutive meetings with the Bruins. Sprinkle in a questionable-at-best blindside hit served late and high from Nick Ritchie to David Backes, one that Cassidy said he was “very surprised” wasn’t a penalty, and of course the streak was snapped.
Not even a Ryan Spooner birthday goal with 40 seconds left could fix what that first period ruined. He knew it, we knew it, so why not just come out and say it?
“After the second and third period I thought we played well,” he began. “Sucks in the first period that we didn’t.”
The good news? Every single one of Tuesday’s problems has an easy solution...as long as, for the love of God, Brad Marchand can stop elbowing people in their vital organs.