Bruins Still Have Room for Improvement in the Playoffs

Boston Bruins, Craig Smith

Game 1 in Boston was electric. The Boston Bruins came to play and their top players dominated from start to finish, Tuukka Rask played as well as the team could have expected and the 17,400 fans at TD Garden made sure their voices were heard.

From start to finish, the Bruins were able to dominate the game, outshooting the Islanders 40-22 and outscoring them 5-2, including an empty-net goal. The Bruins’ top-line of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand were able to outshoot the opposition 17-3 while playing five-on-five during the game, according to Natural Stat Trick. They would also outscore the Islanders 2-0. Pastrnak would finish the game with a hat-trick with his first goal of the night coming on the power play.

David Pastrnak Boston Bruins
David Pastrnak recorded a hat trick for the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the second round of the NHL Playoffs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Not just a one-line show anymore, the Bruins’ second line of David Krejci, Craig Smith and Taylor Hall would also outshoot the Islanders 7-3 and did exactly what fans have grown accustomed to since the line was put together.

The team would score four goals against Ilya Sorokin who would go 4-0-0 with a 1.95 goals against average and .943 save percentage in the first round. After one game of the second round, Sorokin’s numbers have dropped to a 2.32 goals-against average and .934 save percentage. While these are still very good numbers, the Bruins proved that he’s beatable.

Then there’s the Bruins own goaltending situation which should leave fans feeling optimistic.

Rask may have finished the game with a .909 save percentage, but he’d make 17 saves on 18 shots at even strength and allowed one goal on four powerplay shots, though the power-play goal in question was tipped in front. This would bring the tally up to eight out of the 12 goals allowed by Rask in the postseason hitting something or someone before passing him. For those keeping score, that means only four of them have gone in cleanly which is a great sign for the Bruins. The boxscore may not be as forgiving but Rask was certainly up to the task throughout the game and helped the Bruins to their fifth win in six playoff games so far.

Related: Bruins’ Rask Could Be Difference Maker Against Islanders

Despite all of the good, though, there’s still a lot of room for improvement for the Bruins. Instead of taking this as a negative, though, it can absolutely be looked at in a positive way. If the Bruins have looked this good despite the issues about to be discussed, just imagine what they could do once things are cleaned up.

It may seem like nitpicking considering the team has now won five straight playoff games, but there’s no guarantee they’ll continue to overcome these mistakes. The Bruins have played excellent hockey so far this postseason, but the self-inflicted wounds could be enough to derail an entire Stanley Cup run; that’s something the Bruins have to avoid.

Bruins Need to Work on Self-Inflicted Wounds

One of the biggest issues the Bruins faced throughout Game 1 against the Islanders came in the form of turnovers. The team would finish with 13 turnovers as a whole and couldn’t seem to get out of their own way in that regard. Despite this, the Bruins were able to mitigate the damage and limit the Islanders to just 22 shots as a team throughout the night.

Nick Ritchie Boston Bruins
Nick Ritchie was tied for the team-lead in turnovers with two in Game 1, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In general, the Bruins have to do a better job taking care of the puck, even if they’re able to recover nicely and prevent scoring opportunities from the opposition. Whether it’s failing to properly clear the puck from their own defensive zone, the team getting too cute in the neutral zone, or the team making too many moves or in the offensive zone, the turnovers need to be limited before a team capitalizes on them.

Another pressing issue that’s reared its ugly head throughout the postseason for the Bruins has been the excessive amount of penalties taken. While the officials in just about every series in the playoffs thus far have left fans across the NHL scratching their heads this year, the Bruins can’t be putting themselves in a situation where so many penalties can be called.

There isn’t a person alive who can accurately pick out which plays are and are not penalties this postseason, but that means that teams should do their best to avoid making obviously poor decisions and gifting their opponents’ power play opportunities.

Through six games so far, the Bruins have taken 24 total penalties.

Even worse, three of those penalties have been called for too many men on the ice. To put it simply, these have been a result of careless line changes. If the Bruins are going to continue giving the referees an opportunity to call penalties, they’re going to continue getting called for them every single time. These are easily avoidable infractions that need to be fixed through coaching; though Bruce Cassidy has done an excellent job in most facets of the game during the playoffs, this has been a glaring trend that needs to be addressed.

Admittedly, only taking three penalties in Game 1 was already a trend in the right direction as they were averaging over four per game in the first round. Still, the too-many-men penalties need to be cleaned up. Three of them in just six playoff games is unacceptable but certainly something that can and likely will be taken care of.

Self-inflicted wounds aside, the Bruins could have another dilemma on their hands with Smith leaving the game in the third period with a lower-body injury.

Craig Smith Leaves Game 1 With Injury

With Smith and Hall flanking Krejci on the Bruins’ second line, the team has seemingly finally put together a formidable top-six. While Krejci has taken on the brunt of the load in the past, dating back to when he played alongside Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton (and briefly Jarome Iginla), he’s finally gotten help on his line to in turn take off the stress from the team’s top line.

Unfortunately, Smith would leave the game in the third period and wouldn’t return.

“Lower body, had to leave and did not come back. We’ll reassess in the morning,” said Cassidy following the game. “Obviously when you don’t come back, that’s the first red flag. But it’s early now. We’ll have a better update in the morning.”

Craig Smith Boston Bruins
Craig Smith has been a key piece of the Boston Bruins lineup in his first season with the team (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With Smith missing, the Bruins would slide Jake DeBrusk up to the second line. Unfortunately, this trio was far less effective than the line was with Smith in his usual spot. If Smith is unable to go in Game 2, DeBrusk could continue in this role alongside Krejci and Hall. With practice under their belts, it’s possible that this line could wind up being more effective than we saw in Game 1.

The Bruins could also run with Karson Kuhlman in that spot as the 25-year-old has some experience playing on Krejci’s wing. Regardless of who starts in the spot, though, it would likely be an ongoing process that requires in-game tinkering to figure out.

Smith would miss Sunday’s optional skate and was receiving treatment at Warrior Ice Arena. More information will be available Monday morning in regards to his status for Game 2.

Obviously the Bruins are hoping that the Smith injury isn’t anything serious, though, because any extended absence of his would be hard to overcome for the team. The Islanders as a team are likely to tighten up play and do their best to avoid another showing like they had in Game 1. The Bruins have to do everything they can to play their game regardless of what the Islanders throw their way.

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