Hannable: Appreciate Bennett, Long for leaving New England the right way
by: Ty Anderson on Tue, 03/07/2017 - 8:54pm
Losses under Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy have been so rare that they’re rarely worth fretting over. Losses to the Senators, however, are basically flashback scenes for Bruins fans.
It was The Rise of the Hamburglar (Sens goaltender Andrew Hammond) that helped the Sens bump the Bruins from a playoff position down the stretch in 2015. The following season, the Bruins were down Tuukka Rask, failed to show up for a must-win game against the Senators in their season finale, and were thumped by a 6-1 final. All the Bruins had to do was win, but still, the Senators -- who were more than eliminated from the idea of meaningful hockey when they arrived to Boston on that fateful day -- haunted them for the full 60 minutes and an offseason of speculation and frustration.
So, naturally, there’s a touch of panic among fans in the Hub after Monday’s 4-2 loss to Ottawa.
For all the positives established under Cassidy through a month of hockey, woeful losses to the Sens, a constant at the end of Claude Julien’s tenure in Boston, will be this team’s downfall. You don’t breathe any easier knowing two of the B’s remaining 16 games come against the Senators, a team that’s beaten the Black and Gold in eight of their last 10 head-to-head meetings and one they’re still chasing for second place in the Atlantic Division, either. And you’re almost at the point where if there’s a big game to be played against the Senators, you know what’s happening, so you don’t even want to bother watching. Make plans for April. Do anything but invest your time and emotions in this team.
Lose another two to the Sens and it’s all over, right? You’ve lived this before, so why do it again?
Well, let’s pump the brakes on the freefall just a little bit for a moment.
First, the facts: Yes, Monday’s game was horrible and I mean that both from a Bruins standpoint and as a fan of the game of hockey standpoint. If Sens coach Guy Boucher has his say between now and June, who enjoys a sluggish, shut-it-down game through the neutral zone, the game of professional hockey will be set back about 80 years under his watch. And yes, the same problems that existed under Julien were there under Cassidy in this game, as the Bruins really struggled to create high-quality chances up ice and frequently turned the puck over for chances against Rask. If those problems persist in the third and fourth games of the season series -- both of which will be played in Boston versus the Canadian Tire Center, where Boucher had the match-up advantage -- then there’s cause for concern. But in the now, and with losses in two of their last three games for the first under Cassidy, the patience preached by Cassidy to his team can also be applied to the fanbase.
One of the worst things -- and I know how bizarre this is going to sound -- to have happened to the Bruins when they made the switch from Julien to Cassidy was to find success off the jump. Right out of the gate, the Bruins rattled off four wins in a row for the first time all season, and did it against quality opponents, with two wins against the Sharks and a home win (a home win!) against the Canadiens. The Bruins had eight wins at the end of the club’s first 10-game Cassidy-coached segment., and the loss to the Sens dropped that to wins in eight of 11 games, which is still more than alright given the win-one, lose-two, win-two, lose-three nature of the Julien-led squad this season.
Things should not have gone this well this quickly for the Bruins.
It’s a run that’s obviously enjoyable, especially given the general sort of malaise that has surrounded this franchise over the last three season and their teeter towards irrelevancy in a sports town with three bonafide good-to-great teams, but one that hasn’t come with a shock when it comes to their losses. Under Cassidy, the Bruins have lost to the Ducks, Rangers, and now the Senators.
Yeah, that sounds about right.
A loss to the Ducks is nothing new for this team. A road loss to the Ducks is even more common, as the Bruins have not beaten the Disney Gang in Anaheim since they dropped ‘Mighty’ from their name. In general, the Bruins have dropped 10 of their last 12 games to the Ducks, with their last win coming all the way back on Halloween in 2013. A coast-to-coast horror story if I’ve ever heard one. The Rangers, on the other hand, are a team that straight-up smashed the Bruins around in their prior two head-to-heads, outscoring the B’s by a combined 10-to-4 mark. And the Sens, well, we’ve already talked about that and the flashbacks have likely left you in a catatonic state at this point.
But these losses were not even close to those of past defeats in terms of their lingering effect.
All three of these defeats were basically one-goal finishes down to the last minutes (both the Ducks and Sens added empty-net tallies to make it two-goal endings), and their loss to the Blueshirts came with Henrik Lundqvist standing on his head for a 32-of-33 performance in his crease. The Bruins weren’t particularly blown out in either game, and when Monday’s loss to the Sens had the chance to become a blowout -- be it in the opening minutes when the Sens took a 2-0 lead on two shots or when they hammered Rask for 16 shots in the middle period -- Cassidy’s group hung in there.
There’s something to be said about that mindset when put in difficult spots, and this team’s overall ability to keep themselves in games with that belief. I think there’s also something to be said about Cassidy’s ability to make game-to-game adjustments and his team’s response when pushed. Those are immeasurables that not only tend to carry some weight this time of year, but immeasurables that were found in some of the teams that have bumped you from the eight-seed in back-to-back seasons.
There's also the on-ice attributes of this team, which remain solid. Cassidy has done a wonderful job of putting players in the best situations to succeed most nights, their power play is still clicking, their penalty-killing group is and has been among the best in the league from the start, and the quality of their five-on-five goaltending has gone up after what looked to be a downward trend for almost a full month between Tuukka Rask and Zane McIntyre. If that remains the same -- and especially with several (expensive) bodies on deck to make sure these players are pushing one another -- the Bruins will be fine.
It's the long way of saying that even with these losses, the positives outweigh the negatives of the Cassidy sample by a fairly healthy margin.
It’s if and when the Bruins drop games they should absolutely, 100 percent win -- such as Wednesday’s game against the Red Wings, Saturday’s head-to-head with the Flyers, or next Monday’s road game against the Canucks -- that you should begin to worry about how this team will flame out when put in two more increasingly must-win games against this Sens group.