If momentum in baseball is limited by the next day’s pitcher, momentum in hockey seems limited by the next game’s puck management.
And for the Bruins, all their Thursday momentum aided by David Krejci‘s return to the lineup and the team’s three-game winning streak – which included a rare win over arch-rival Montreal on Tuesday – vanished at TD Garden in a 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks thanks to sloppy play at inopportune times.
“We play well for three or four games, we do the things that we need to do, and then we get away from it for a bit,” center Ryan Spooner admitted after the defeat. “As a team now, we need to play the same way.”
Perhaps the B’s lineup changes prohibited the ability to repeat recent quality performances. Out went Frank Vatrano and Joonas Kemppainen, while in came Krejci and Landon Ferraro after injury absences. Three of Boston’s four forward lines had personnel tweaks entering Thursday’s action.
And by the end of the night, lacking enough quality scoring chances, there would be more tweaks coming from head coach Claude Julien.
“Sloppy plays and a lot of giveaways and turnovers,” explained Julien. “I didn’t think we were at our best here tonight. As much as it looked good in the first period I think we might have had four scoring chances. A lot of were high slot and we didn’t have net-front presence. There were a lot from the outside. Four scoring chances is not bad for a period but we should have had more. We should have been a lot harder on their goaltender than we were.”
Julien continued: “I changed lines more because not much was happening, that’s why I moved guys around a little bit. I didn’t think we played that well and I needed to try and get something out of our players.”
Late in the second period, winger David Pastrnak swapped places with Matt Beleskey, sparking a Jimmy Hayes goal from a newly-formed line that tied the game 1-1 headed to the third period.
But, the same forward trio that was on the ice for the goal to the good – Hayes, Pastrnak, and Spooner – were also on the ice for Vancouver’s go-ahead goal less than two minutes in the period three.
“It’s part of the game, we weren’t scoring goals so you mix it up,” said Hayes. “You’ve got to play the same way no matter who you’re playing with. Obviously, you don’t want to be out there for any goals against, but I think we were out there for two of them. Gotta find a way to keep the puck out of your net and be better.”
Pastrnak in particular was charged with seven turnovers on the game’s official event summary. And although those totals are often disputed, Julien indeed singled Pastrnak out afterwards as Exhibit A of mistake-makers.
“In Dave Pastrnak’s case I know he had an assist tonight but I think he had about four or five giveaways there, unforced errors, and he’s playing against top lines and we need players to be better in those areas,” said Julien. “So I tried to put a little more experience to play against that and put him in a situation where he has less pressure and more room. And then with [Spooner] and him on the same line it just seemed they were being a little outmatched there by the other team. Whether it was from the way we played or from youth and inexperience I’m not quite sure but I still had to make some more changes.”
By game’s end, Ferraro was up in Pastrnak’s spot on the Spooner line, and Pastrnak was resigned to fourth-line minutes.
Then, after some Vancouver sloppiness gave Brad Marchand his 18th tally of the year to tie the game at 2-2, Boston’s only line of stability on the night – Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Brett Connolly – gave the lead right back to the Canucks with some poor puck management of their own in their defensive zone.
“Mistakes happen out there, no one is perfect, but I thought we could have managed the puck a little better and got at least a point,” said Krejci. “Frustrating loss. I thought we did a good job in the third period of coming back. They scored right away, we came back. We had a couple chances, but it’s frustrating to lose like that. Especially when you come back and guys are rolling, you want to just jump on the train and keep it going. A little sad for my comeback.”
Boston’s night-full-of-mistakes weren’t limited to one end of the ice.
“Normally when we’re able to sustain a forecheck it’s because guys are coming back and it allows the ‘D’ to pinch up and keep the puck in,” said Marchand. “We didn’t do a great job tonight of covering up for each other and pucks were able to get out of the [offensive] zone because of that.”
“I think we made the game easy on them tonight,” said Ferraro. “We struggled with that through a lot of the game, especially in the third I don’t know how many times we iced the puck tonight. That’s not on the ‘D’ that’s on forwards as well. They were moving it up and we weren’t getting sticks on them. Overall, it wasn’t a very tidy game.”
“It’s just getting pucks in deep and continuing to put pressure on the defensemen,” said Hayes. “Beginning of the game we weren’t really getting pucks in the corner and getting in there on them. Find ways to keep it simple.”
Unfortunately for the Bruins so far, it’s been anything but a simple year. One thing is clear: how they manage their final 36 regular season games will make all the difference in how simple their spring is, too.