For the first time this season the Boston Bruins have hit a rut.
A road loss to the New York Islanders broke Boston’s five-game winning streak last Saturday, and then the New Jersey Devils visited TD Garden and outplayed the Bruins on Thursday.
Maybe after the Bruins raced out to a lead in the East Division they got a little complacent. If that’s the case, then playing in the Bridgestone NHL Outdoors Sunday game in Lake Tahoe against Philadelphia might be just the cure to get them back on track.
The Bruins will be playing without one of their best playmakers, David Krejci, because of a lower-body injury that kept him off the trip to Nevada. And as Saturday’s suspended game between Colorado and Vegas proved (where players were literally hitting ruts), the ice conditions will be less than ideal.
Boston will have no choice but to make simple plays Sunday.
“Probably just ask them to simplify their game and manage the puck because of the ice conditions, I’d imagine, could be inconsistent,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said Saturday after his team practiced indoors as a nearby rink. “And also the altitude here, your shift length, you’ll have to really take care of that. We’re really higher than we’re used to. So there’s some of those things that we’ll address more.”
In the past, the Bruins have always turned around their play by simplifying, so the imperfect environment might do them a favor.
Cassidy mentioned there’ll be more call for passes to areas rather than tape-to-tape passes. Perhaps there will also be a call to fire more pucks on net, something Cassidy lamented the Bruins didn’t do enough against the Devils. The Bruins rank seventh in the NHL in shots on net per game (31.7), but there have certainly been stretches, even in some of their better wins, where they’ve been unselfish to a fault.
The Avalanche fired 17 shots at Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury on Saturday and took a 1-0 lead to the first intermission. That’ll be the mentality the Bruins will need. There’s no telling how goalies will respond to the picturesque backdrop and potential sun glare, even at the new start time of 4:30 p.m. local time.
Mentally, the Lake Tahoe game might also be a positive jolt for the Bruins too. The 56-game season has brought new sources of monotony — from seeing the same opponents over and over, to being confined as a team on the road. Playing in a historically unique environment, with the national television spotlight shining, the Bruins might feel a playoff-level rise in adrenaline, even if there’ll just be two standings points on the line.
The Bruins’ core knows what a lift it can be to win a Winter Classic (2010 at Fenway Park, 2019 at Notre Dame) and what a bummer it can be to be embarrassed in one (2016 at Foxboro). When Game 16 of the regular season has a little extra spice, it can do a team wonders.
“It’s been great experiences. It never really gets old, it’s always a fun event to be a part of,” center Patrice Bergeron said. “This one is different, no fans, beautiful landscape in the background, so I’m looking forward to that. But yeah, I think they’re all unique in their own way, and it’s been fun obviously to be a part of it.
“And I think any game is a lot more fun when you win, so not just the outdoor games, but any game really. So obviously that’s the focus tomorrow, it’s still a big game and it’s still a game that you need for the standings.”
If this Bruins’ season finishes the way they want, it’ll be a special ending. The entire tale of it, though, will be better if they can look back fondly at Lake Tahoe as a turning point.