Thursday night, December 27, 2018, the Boston Bruins played host to the New Jersey Devils. Based on their records, this should have been an easy game for the Bruins to win—well as easy as any game can be in the NHL. Add to that the return of Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and Jake DeBrusk to the lineup after each had been out for some time, and it seemed like Santa had wrapped up a gift for the team.
Of course, when a team finds itself down a goal just 25 seconds into the first period, it can affect the confidence of all of the players. And that is what happened to the Bruins, when Damon Severson put one past Jaroslav Halak, who was coming into the post-holiday break game riding a three-game winning streak.
“When you’re not scoring, you know, you get behind a few, you all of sudden – doubt creeps into your mind – and we have to erase that. It’s our job as coaches to make sure the guys feel good about their game and know they can come back, but until we do it a few times it’s probably going to be a struggle until we get over that first hump,” said Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy.
And just as there were adjustments in the lines when Patrice Bergeron returned last week, albeit returning in a big way with his two goals and two assists, it took a bit of that first period for him and his linemates to get back on the same page. In that game, Coach Cassidy eventually returned to the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak combination as the game progressed.
When players have been away from the game for an extended period from injury, there are many aspects of training that they can get back before going on the ice in their first return game. One of the things they can’t practice is timing. Cassidy mentioned that about Bergeron’s return. And Chara brought it up when discussing how he felt in his first game back after missing 16 games due to an MCL injury back on November 19th.
“Not bad. One thing we can’t really practice is timing, that’s one thing you really miss the most. Conditioning-wise, strength was fine, everything was good. Just to be in the right spot that was kind of one thing that was kind of getting stuck in between. Other than that, I felt pretty good to be honest with you for the first game in a long time. I thought as the game went on, I started feeling better being in those spots,” Chara said.
The giveaways throughout the game, the Bruins had 17 through the first two periods, spoke to some of those timing issues. But it also spoke to them getting away from playing their game. As the doubt perhaps crept in, many of the Bruins seemed to begin to over-pass, looking for the perfect play, instead of simplifying and playing to their strengths. In addition, while the Bruins were giving the puck away, the New Jersey Devils were also excelling at taking it away from them. The Devils managed 21 takeaways throughout the game as opposed to the Bruins who only had eight.
With all of that said though, Boston was getting shots on net—a total of 42 shots were put on Mackenzie Blackwood, who had only played in three games, and had a 0-1-0 record. The young goaltender, who was celebrating his first NHL win, was appreciative of his teammates, who blocked an additional 19 shots, but he may also want to thank the pipes because the Bruins did hit a few of those.
“You know, I’m happy to finally get the first win, and you know, the team played awesome for me. Really made my job a lot easier, and you know, it’s definitely one of those ones that you’re not going to forget,” Blackwood shared.
Was it an ugly game for the Boston Bruins? Yes. And given that the New Jersey Devils sit in last place in the Eastern Conference, the loss stings a little more. However, they do not have time to dwell on that loss. It happened. They need to correct things—which will be addressed in practice, and then move on. They take on the Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo on Saturday, December 29, before heading out to South Bend, Indiana to participate in their third Winter Classic—this one against the Chicago Blackhawks and being played at Notre Dame Stadium on New Year’s Day.