Phil Kessel scored twice against the Bruins Wednesday. (Getty Images)
TORONTO – The first eight games of the Zdeno Chara-less schedule looked like a group of largely winnable contests before they would have to face the Canadiens. For as well as the Bruins survived that stretch, they ended it in disastrous fashion.
For all the bad moments have had this season — and they’ve had plenty between their early-season struggles and the injuries they’ve suffered – they hadn’t really gotten walloped by anyone, let alone a Maple Leafs opponent they had handled easily without Chara once already.
The Bruins’ 6-1 loss to the Maple Leafs (box) provided a reminder for anyone who had forgotten that, though Boston hasn’t played many good teams of late, things are a lot harder without No. 33 on the ice. Phil Kessel, a player who is usually silent against his former team because of Chara, enjoyed a two-goal night against Boston’s mortal blue line.
Tuukka Rask was yanked after giving up three goals early in the second period and four on the night. Even what looked like a well-targeted goal by Reilly Smith was negated in the second by Carl Soderberg being in the crease.
Of course, it wasn’t just about Chara, Rask or Boston’s defense. This was one of those once-in-a-season colossal stinkers that a team can only hope will end up being their worst loss of the season with few other candidates.
Here are four other things we learned Wednesday night:
STRANGE DAYS FOR BERGERON
Patrice Bergeron is one of the best 5-on-5 players in the world. When he’s on the ice, people usually don’t score unless they’re wearing Bruins sweaters.
So it’s pretty un-Bergeron-like of the two-time Selke winner to see he and his linemates scored on as often as he has the last couple games. Though he did put up three points Monday against the Devils, Bergeron has been on the ice for four five-on-five goals over the last two games. It could have easily been five had Rask not made back-to-back stops on Tyler Bozak in front early on.
Bergeron was on the ice for Seidenberg’s line along with Simon Gagne and Milan Lucic. He still finished the night a minus-1 and took a hooking penalty in the third period.
Bergeron was a minus player in 14 games last season’s 80-game effort. Wednesday’s game was Bergeron’s sixth dash in 17 games, putting him on pace for 29 games as a minus this season. One couldn’t imagine Bergeron would keep up that pace, but an odd start to the season should dent his chances at getting that third Selke in this campaign.
SHOULD RASK PLAY OR SIT VS. HABS?
When the Bruins gave Rask the start Wednesday, it wasn’t clear what their intentions were exactly heading into back-to-back games, but getting a win against the Leafs was obviously part of the plan.
Now, with Rask having struggled Wednesday, it’s unclear whether they will go back to him Thursday against a team that’s had his number over the years.
Rask had won four games in a row entering Wednesday but had a rough go of it against the Leafs. You generally can’t blame a goalie for getting beaten by Kessel, but Rask did kick a big rebound right to Morgan Reilly in the second period for Toronto’s third goal of the game.
The night actually got off to a promising start for Rask, as his stick-save on the rebound of Bozak’s shot in the opening minutes was outstanding. At the time that Rask was yanked after allowing three goals in three and a half minutes early in the second period, he had given up four goals on 16 shots faced.
It’s worth noting that Wednesday’s game was the second this season in which the Bruins replaced Rask in-game. The other time came against the Canadiens in the teams’ only meeting of the season.
JULIEN JUGGLES LINES
The Bruins started the game with the lines they’ve normally used of late without David Krejci (Chris Kelly in Krejci’s place and Matt Fraser in Kelly’s spot on Soderberg’s line, with Patrice Bergeron‘s line and Gregory Campbell‘s line remaining the same).
With things getting out of hand in the second period, however, Julien shook things up. He put Bergeron between Lucic and Gagne, which yielded Boston’s only goal of the game. Reilly Smith was moved to Fraser’s spot on Soderberg’s line, which moved Fraser to Campbell’s line. Kelly centered Brad Marchand and Seth Griffith.
KESSEL FINALLY SCORES AGAINST KRUG
In the first game the Bruins played after losing Zdeno to his torn PCL, Torey Krug — usually a third-pairing guy who doesn’t see much time against top competition – played nine shifts against Kessel, with the matchup actually working out in Boston’s favor. Toronto had just one shot on goal in those shifts, with Boston totaling four.
On Wednesday, Toronto finally got something out of that matchup, perhaps due to some bad luck for the Bruins and the fact that, unlike last time when Krug had Adam McQuaid as his partner, he was skating with the less-experienced Zach Trotman.
Kessel scored against the duo when, after Dion Phaneuf backhanded a puck out of the Toronto zone along the boards, the puck bounced past Trotman, allowing Kessel to pick it up as he raced into the offensive zone and fired a puck past both Krug and Rask.
The Bruins might not have been thrilled with the goal, however, as the puck went off the boards awfully high, possibly touching a Maple Leafs glove on the bench. Had it, the play should have been whistled dead.
Wednesday’s game was Krug’s second back in Boston’s lineup since returning from a broken pinky finger. He and Trotman were also on the ice for Reilly’s goal.