Bad habits crept up on the Boston Bruins in the City of Brotherly Love.
Despite their frequent turnovers and shaky goaltending, the Bruins sustained a healthy attacking zone presence against the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday. They found themselves trailing 3-1 early in the second period only to even things up behind a Taylor Hall breakaway — on a beautiful long-distance feed by Charlie McAvoy — and a rebound tally by Brad Marchand.
The Bruins out-shot the Flyers, 40-25. But the defensive breakdowns and a rare off night for Jeremy Swayman caught up to them.
Despite a solid backcheck by Hall, Cam Atkinson netted his second goal of the night off a Joel Farabee feed — following Mike Reilly’s neutral-zone turnover — to put the Flyers ahead for good a mere 58 ticks into the third period. Travis Konecny’s third goal of the season at 11:01 and Sean Couturier’s empty-net marker at 19:01 capped off Philly’s third win of this young campaign.
“Our breakdowns were bad in front of [the net]. Not a lot of quantity, but high quality. Just mistakes from the back end,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said to reporters. “It’s losing hockey is what it is. It’s how you lose games. You do dumb things and teams come back at you, and they finish. That’s what happened”
Here’s what we learned from Boston’s 6-3 loss at Wells Fargo Center.
Jeremy Swayman is human.
Let’s face it, Swayman was due for a stinker at some point. After all, he only allowed three goals just once in his initial 11 starts, which ironically came in Philly a little over six months ago in his third career appearance. And given the odd schedule to start the year, Wednesday provided a ripe circumstance for an off night.
Indeed, Swayman looked human, beginning with his first goal allowed on Atkinson’s opening period 2-on-1 tally following a bad pinch by Derek Forbort in Boston’s attacking end.
Aside from a stout stop on Farabee’s shorthanded attempt in the first, Swayman made his routine saves look anything but. The defense rarely kept his crease clean, providing the Flyers with a handful of secondary scoring chances.
The breakdowns piled up as Swayman allowed five goals on 24 shots.
“He’s not going to be perfect every night, and clearly he wasn’t tonight,” Cassidy said of Swayman. “Not his best [effort]. We needed some saves there when we broke down. And…that’s it. He didn’t give us [the saves] when we needed them.”
The Bruins got the saves from Swayman in the season-opener. The defense hardly looked out of sorts either — aside from the second line getting caught in a long shift on Dallas’ only tally — in the 3-1 victory last Saturday.
But the preseason question marks surrounding the defense and goaltending proved true on this night. And now Swayman will get his first test responding to adversity when he makes his next start on Sunday afternoon against the San Jose Sharks at TD Garden.
“I’m obviously accountable for what happened,” Swayman said following the roughest outing of his young career. “I thought the team played great — a great comeback in the second. But I just want to do my job better and give them a chance to win.”
His next chance will have to wait for a few days as Linus Ullmark will make his Bruins debut on Friday in Buffalo against the surprising 3-0 Sabres.
The Matt Grzelcyk-Charlie McAvoy pairing needs to stick.
The former Boston University standouts spent significant time paired with one another throughout their first few seasons. Grzelcyk’s quick skating and offensive skillset and McAvoy’s stout two-way ability meshed into one of the league’s top 5v5 defensive pairings.
The depth behind Grzelcyk and McAvoy provided significant holes on the second and third pairings. Even so, the Bruins tried to balance out the defensive units with free-agent pickup Derek Forbort starting the year with McAvoy and Grzelcyk moving to the third pairing with Connor Clifton. But Cassidy wouldn’t hesitate to reunite the Grzelcyk-McAvoy pairing whenever the Bruins needed an offensive spark, as was the case on Wednesday.
The flexibility to use Forbort in a shutdown role with McAvoy or Brandon Carlo remains. With that, the Bruins might want to think about keeping the Grzelcyk-McAvoy pairing intact.
Granted, the undersized Grzelcyk isn’t immune to defensive mismatches in front of the net. He isn’t a liability defensively per se, but at times he can get overwhelmed in matchups against some of the top-tier lines in hockey. Yet, the upside of the Grzelcyk-McAvoy pairing outweighs any other potential defensive lineup option.
Nick Foligno exits with an upper-body injury.
Foligno checked off all the boxes for a bottom-six upgrade. The Bruins hardly had Foligno’s intangibles and leadership traits from their third and fourth lines in last year’s second-round loss to the Islanders.
The former Blue Jackets captain became a popular commodity upon arriving in Boston. Now the B’s hope they won’t miss Foligno’s presence for long after he exited Wednesday’s game with an upper-body injury.
“Upper-body. He just pulled something. Hopefully nothing serious, but he wasn’t able to return. So that’s never a good sign,” Cassidy said of Foligno’s injury. “We’ll see how he is tomorrow.”
Anton Blidh is next on the depth chart. But the Bruins may want to look at their options from Providence if Foligno misses a significant amount of time.
Jack Studnicka sits atop the list of potential callups. The Bruins liked what they saw out of Studnicka in the preseason, even as they sent their 2017 second-round selection down I-95 to start the year in a top-line role. Cassidy would likely move Charlie Coyle or Erik Haula to wing if Studnicka joins the big club.
Should they go the pure winger route, the Bruins would likely choose between Jakub Lauko or Cameron Hughes.
Foligno provides a necessary spark to the bottom six. His chemistry with a rejuvenated Jake DeBrusk and fellow off-season addition Erik Haula provided the Bruins with a quality secondary scoring trio. The last thing they want is a disruption to that intriguing early-season development.
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