The Detroit Red Wings had a tremendously difficult game against the Boston Bruins, losing 5-1, and Boston now sits 1 point up on the Red Wings in the Wild Card, Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference standings, all with 5 games in hand on Detroit.
The long story long is that a lot of things went poorly for the Red Wings on Sunday, from their 0-for-4 power play, their 20 shot attempts fired into Bruins players (15) or wide of the net (5) out of a total of 44 attempts, surrendering 3 3rd period goals or plain old (and admittedly) getting pushed around by a more physical Bruins team.
The Boston Herald’s Steven Conroy told the tale of the Bruins’ win from Boston’s perspective, and to Conroy, Sunday’s story was one of a team coming together at the right time (check this off as another lesson for a young, learning Red Wings team)…
The B’s took a hard-earned 2-1 lead after two periods and then broke it open with three goals in the third. Jeremy Swayman (22 stops) also made the big saves when they were needed.
The win over the Wings allowed them to leapfrog over Detroit for the second wild card spot in the playoff structure.
And on top of the much-needed depth scoring showing up on the weekend, the B’s scored eight 5-on-5 goals, another area in which they needed a lot of improvement.
The B’s may not be in the elite tier right now, but in a game in which they were challenging a team ahead of them in the standings (and one that, at 11-5-2, had been very good at home), they proved to be the better team.
Whether or not the line changes have created a new normal that will get the Bruins back among the top teams in the league remains to be seen. But Cassidy couldn’t help but like what he’s witnessed.
“You get results like tonight and everyone feels good. It’s just the way it is,” said Cassidy. “That’s the end goal. You’d like every line to score. It doesn’t always work out that way. But we’ve had a good couple of days. The thing will be down the road when it doesn’t go our way, how are they going to respond? We’ll see soon enough. It’s a tough league. But right now we’re going to enjoy and get ready for New Jersey (on Tuesday at the Garden).”
For the Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont, Sunday’s game was about the Bruins taking advantage of secondary scoring, after coach Cassidy split up the “Perfection Line” of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak:
“I guess the only thing I’d say,” noted Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, pondering whether his recent line changes proved the difference in scoring, “there might be a little more oxygen in the room for the secondary guys, at times.”
Foligno scored his first of the season on Saturday. Frederic’s goal, off a doorstep sweep of a Mike Reilly rebound for a 4-1 lead in Detroit, was his first this season and only his fifth in 79 NHL games. Haula, for three months a shadow of the player the Bruins believed they were signing as a free agent, scored for only the second time in 27 games. Nosek’s was but his third in Black and Gold.
Overall, other than the top line, the offense for the first one-third of ‘21-’22 has been one part do nothing and an equal part nothing doing.
Now it looks like it could be something. Maybe.
“I certainly felt we’d score more,” said Cassidy. “We have some guys in the league who’ve proven they can score — some of it’s secondary, obviously, the guys we brought in [including Foligno, Haula, and Nosek] . . . you are starting to see, yes, a product of how we envisioned it. Sometimes it takes a while to sort of bake.”
The lack of goal scoring, has been influenced, in part, by an assortment of injuries and the more recent interruption and resurgence of COVID.
“A little injuries, a little COVID,” noted Cassidy. “Hopefully some of that, or most of it, is behind us and we can stick with the program and see [goal scoring] a little more in the long term.”
The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa backed it up with advanced stats…
The Bruins were ripe for regression. They were not due to shoot a league-low 5.76 percent at five-on-five all year. Frederic and Nick Foligno could not remain parked on zero goals.
But in the last two wins over Detroit and Buffalo, the Bruins drained eight of their 62 five-on-five shots (12.9 percent) primarily because of their resolve to improve the quality of their looks. They are now averaging 2.28 goals per 60 minutes of five-on-five play, according to Natural Stat Trick — 19th in the league.
“You’re starting to see a product of how we envisioned it,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Sometimes it takes a little while to sort of bake. I think Foligno getting hurt early on, then Smitty getting hurt early on threw the lines out of whack a little bit and an opportunity to get some chemistry. Teams go through that, a little injury, a little COVID. Hopefully, most of that’s behind us, we can stick with the program and see a little more of it in the long term.”
And BostonBruins.com’s Elaine Cavalieri noted that Erik Haula’s 2-1 goal, which stood up as the game-winner, was something of a renaissance moment for the plucky scoring winger–as well as proof of the Bruins’ secondary scoring:
Swayman was called for unsportsmanlike conduct [in a scrum at 5:24 of the 2nd period], and Erik Haula took his seat in the penalty box – which turned into a blessing in disguise for the centerman as his exit from the sin bin helped him be in perfect position to create a breakaway and snipe one into the top right corner to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead at 7:37 of the second. Haula was happy to cash in and get his game back where he thought it was before COVID-19 stole the show and put the B’s season on pause.
“I felt like my game was headed towards the right direction before all this stuff happened, and I thought my game elevated when I got put on the wing a little bit. I feel like it’s been trending towards what I expect for myself,” said Haula.
“I was really excited, obviously two great players. To get an opportunity to play with those two is exciting,” said Haula.
Haula’s goal carried the Bruins into the third up one. But with 20 minutes left to play, the Bruins had plenty of hockey left to rack up some insurance. Charlie McAvoy started things off strong with a one timer off a great cross-ice pass by Hall to extend the lead 3-1 at 5:59 of the third. It was McAvoy’s fifth goal of the season and his fourth point in two games after a three-assist showing against Buffalo on Saturday.
Just under two minutes later, Trent Frederic notched his first goal of the season off a Tomas Nosek rebound that landed right at his feet. Nosek then finished off the third-period barrage with a goal of his own to secure the win.
“Happy to see him score,” said Cassidy. “Probably doesn’t factor much into the game, the end result – whether it’s 4-1 or 5-1 – but for all the chances he’s had and worked hard to get, I’m glad he got on the scoresheet as well.”
And you can take this note from Boston.com’s Ryan Ames for what you will:
The second period provided the turning point against the Red Wings thanks to a few scraps prior to Haula’s go-ahead tally.
First, Marchand and Vladislav Namestnikov exchanged fists about three minutes into the frame. Then a scrum around Swayman resulted in unsportsmanlike conduct penalties to the Bruins netminder and Detroit’s Sam Gagner.
Just 13 seconds after the matching penalties expired, Haula netted the goal that swung the momentum to the Bruins and quieted the Red Wings faithful.
An emotional spike can either help or hurt a team. Even Swayman felt the need to get involved and stand up for his teammates.
“I didn’t like the situation. I was getting kind of held on the back of my helmet; I’m going to stand up for myself,” Swayman said. “At the same time, if he’s going to mess with my guys, I’m going to do my part and protect my guys. I thought we did a good job of that.
“Obviously we killed off a good penalty, thanks for that, and then Haula got a goal, so we were happy with that,” Swayman added.
The game cooled down in the third, but the Bruins kept the offense rolling with three insurance markers in a critical Atlantic Division contest.
NHL.com’s Dave Hogg summarized the Bruins’ takes on the game, and shifted focus to the Red Wings’ narrative:
“That was a great win, especially since we only went into the third period with a one-goal lead,” Swayman said. “We knew we needed more, and the guys went out and got us three insurance goals.”
“They are all elite players who would have been easy choices as Olympians again this year,” Cassidy said. “When they are together, everyone leans on them a little bit. When you split that up, there’s a little more oxygen in the room for the secondary guys.”
Alex Nedeljkovic made 32 saves for the Red Wings (15-15-3).
“Boston wants to bully you if you give them the opportunity, and we let them do it,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “We know we have to do a better job of pushing back against that.”
“We pushed hard in the first period and we were still right there in the second,” Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin said. “We were just too passive in the third. We have to come out with a stronger defensive effort and pin them in their end.”
”We just didn’t execute, we didn’t even get shots,” Red Wings center Dylan Larkin said. ”We have to bring more to the game than we did tonight.”
Bertuzzi put Detroit ahead 1-0 when he positioned himself to the side of the net and scored on a rebound of Danny DeKeyser’s shot.
Bergeron scored off a feed from Craig Smith later in the period.
Shortly after exiting the penalty box, Haula lifted the puck over Nedeljkovic’s left shoulder at 7:37 of the second period.
McAvoy’s goal at 5:59 of the third off Taylor Hall’s pass gave Boston a two-goal advantage. Frederic banged in a rebound less than two minutes later for his first goal this season. Nosek scored at 10:40 of the period.
”We obviously weren’t good enough in the third period,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. ”We made some important defensive blunders and it cost us the game. I thought Ned played well, but we were making too many mistakes in front of him.”
On the Red Wings’ side of the equation, the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan felt that the Red Wings’ 0-for-4 power play was the culprit that lost the Wings the game:
“We have to find a way to get to our spots,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “When the puck is on our stick, we can’t force it. We forced it way too much. Every defenseman in this league has a good stick and breaks up plays. We had too many plays broken up by forcing it and not moving it around the outside.”
The Wings didn’t generate shots on the power play and seemed to lose confidence as the attempts progressed.
“Quick puck movement,” said coach Jeff Blashill, noting one ingredient the Wings didn’t possess on the power play, but then adding some others. “Being efficient with the puck and not turning the puck over. Not having unforced errors.”
Blashill added confidence is a big ingredient evens special teams, and the Wings didn’t have enough of it Sunday.
A positive outlook, said Larkin, is also important for a unit that has struggled for the majority of this season. And the last several seasons, for that matter.
“We need to do more of what’s made us successful and not dwell on how it’s not going well and all the negative energy and pressure,” Larkin said. “We need to stay focused on the positive and get to our spots and move the puck quick. We need to spread it out, set up and get the shots we want.”
Kulfan also noted that, in both of the Red Wings’ losses this past weekend, the games followed similar patterns:
“The Washington game, we’re in position to win the hockey game,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “They’re different games. This team (Boston) came in here and played with more urgency level and understanding what is at stake than we did. I don’t like using the word desperation but that urgency level is critical and you have to compete like crazy. This is the way it’ll be as we go through the month of January. They had to make up ground (in the standings) and we want to make up ground. We have to come with a more urgent approach.”
The Red Wings appear to be brushing off the effects of an almost two-week COVID-19 and holiday break that almost every NHL team is experiencing.
That’ll take more practices and games. But the Bruins looked sharper playing their second game in two days, both victories, than the Wings did.
“We were off 12 days and we were finding a good rhythm before Christmas and the COVID break,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “We need to find that again quickly.”
The Wings opened the scoring, then saw the Bruins take control, scoring five consecutive goals. That enabled Boston to leapfrog the Wings in the division — and, for what it’s worth this early — the wild-card standings.
The Wings have lost six of their last eight games.
Overall, Larkin and Kulfan agreed with Kulfan’s assessments:
“They play hard, they block shots, they’re physical,” Larkin said. “It was a physical game, like it was against Washington, and I really felt when it got physical we’ve just kind of been mediocre. We need to push back and have a better push back when it gets to this point.”
“The mistakes we made today weren’t from rust,” Blashill said. “Again, it was understanding the level of competition that it takes every single days. I didn’t think we were ready for the competitive level they came with. That doesn’t take rust. It’s a maturity level and understanding how hard you have to play every night and that’s why they’ve (Bruins) been so successful for a long time.”
Blashill also put things bluntly while speaking with the Free Press’s Helene St. James, who posted a brief recap:
“We got through the first lucky a little bit,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Could have been worse than 1-1. They came and competed harder than us in the first. Our competition level was better in the second. We have to find a way to score on the power play, or build momentum off it. Then we weren’t good enough in the third – we made some defensive blunders.”
MLive’s Ansar Khan took note of the Wings’ lack of “push-back” to the Bruins’ physicality…
The Red Wings have had nearly their full lineup – only defenseman Nick Leddy remains in COVID protocol – but have managed only 44 shots and two goals combined in two games following their return.
“We were off for 12 days and we were finding a nice rhythm before the COVID break,” Larkin said. “We need to find that again quickly. We need to get pucks through, get traffic and we need to score like we did tonight, with (Tyler Bertuzzi’s) goal, guys off the side, guys in front, pucks getting through, and get back into a rhythm of playing as a five-man unit in the offensive zone.”
They wrap up a three-game homestand Tuesday against San Jose.
“This team came in here and played with more of an urgency level to understanding what’s at stake than we did,” Blashill said. “You got to compete like crazy. This is what it’s going to be like as we continue into the month of January. We got to come with a more urgent approach.
“I didn’t think we were ready for the competitive level that they came with. It’s a maturity factor, understanding how hard you have to play every single night.”
And, among Detroit Hockey Now’s Kevin Allen’s “5 Takeaways“:
The Red Wings have the NHL’s most difficult schedule moving forward. They will see plenty of quality teams. Since Dec. 9, the Red Wings have faced the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins. They have gone 0-5 in those games and have been outscored 26-10.
Since putting together a five-game winning streak, the Red Wings have lost six of their last eight. They have given up 34 goals in those eight games. That’s an average of 4.25.
Coming out of the break, coach Jeff Blashill said one of the Red Wings’ primary missions had to be to give up fewer Grade A scoring chances. They didn’t achieve that goal against Boston.
Highlights: Sportsnet posted an 8:22 highlight clip:
NHL.com posted an 8:52 clip:
Post-game: The Bruins posted post-game remarks from Jeremy Swayman…
And coach Bruce Cassidy:
Bally Sports Detroit posted 3:18 of Dylan Larkin’s post-game press conference:
Bally Sports Detroit only posted 57 seconds of coach Jeff Blashill’s post-game media availability:
Bally Sports Detroit was stingy with their post-game Mickey Redmond video, too:
The Free Press’s Helene St. James posted a 5:14 clip of Larkin’s post-game remarks:
HSJ also posted 6:05 of Blashill’s remarks:
The Red Wings also posted a 2:53 combined clip of Larkin and Blashill’s remarks:
Photos: The Free Press posted a 15-image gallery;
The Detroit News embedded an 14-image gallery in Ted Kulfan’s recap;
NHL.com posted a 41-image gallery.