Putrid. Lousy. Pitiful.
The negative descriptors for the annual outdoor NHL spectacle Winter Classic played at Gillette Stadium on New Year’s Day are endless. The Boston Bruins were run out of the joint by the Montreal Canadiens with nearly 70,000 fans on hand to witness it.
The weather and ice conditions- at times factors in the past- did not have a major influence on yesterday’s contest, but after all of the buildup, it took just 74 seconds for Montreal to set the tone for what was to come.
David Desharnais continued his scoring ways against this team, pouncing on a loose puck to Tuukka Rask’s left and jamming it into the net inside the post before Rask or defenseman Joe Morrow could pick it up.
By the time Paul Byron scored Montreal’s second goal, it was painfully evident that the B’s were just not in gear. The first period was a disaster for Boston, as they were unable to generate any kind of sustained offensive pressure, getting outshot 14-3 overall.
Boston was undermanned- the team lost David Krejci to injury against Ottawa last Sunday and then Brad Marchand found himself on the wrong end of the NHL discipline process for a low-bridge hit on Mark Borowiecki that cost him three-game suspension at the worst possible time. The forwards Boston dressed in their place- Alex Khokhlachev and Seth Griffith– barely played and when they did, weren’t effective. Max Talbot played what was probably his worst game as a Bruin. The list goes on and on.
The B’s looked unprepared for a game that had so much anticipation and fanfare, and the Canadiens took it to them from the drop of the puck. It’s hard to square the team that was on the receiving end of a 5-1 loss to their most hated rival with the one that has put together some impressive winning streaks during the season and played one of their most spirited games of the year this week against Ottawa at home.
If the B’s looked like their alarms hadn’t awakened them, the Habs provided a stark contrast. They got a lift from the return of Brendan Gallagher to the lineup for the first time since November 22 yesterday. He was flying around the ice and then extended Montreal’s lead to three goals when he batted a puck out of mid-air to make it 3-o.
There was’t much to be pleased about from a Boston perspective yesterday: Matt Beleskey tallied the lone goal with a deflection of Adam McQuaid’s point shot to give the B’s life in the third period with a 3-1 score and chance to come back. A bad Zdeno Chara pinch resulted in a 2-on-1 break with Gallagher and Max Pacioretty. Gallagher fed the captain and he buried a shot to put the game effectively out of reach.
There were two key opportunities for Boston in the second period that might have altered the complexion of the game. Jimmy Hayes had a goal taken off the board after the officials lost sight of the puck under goaltender Mike Condon and blew the whistle. Hayes poked at Condon, in a snow angel position, and the puck went in, but the play had clearly been blown dead. Then, with less than a second left, Condon rose to the occasion to deny Ryan Spooner a shot with a fine glove save. Spooner was alone to Condon’s left with an open side to hit, but when the pass came to him, he took an extra second to settle the puck, allowing Condon to get over and make the stop.
In the end, it isn’t the loss itself that represents such a big setback for Boston- it’s the way it went on such a big stage. Veterans like Talbot and Zac Rinaldo were on the ice collectively for a -7 against and weren’t effective as the Canadiens seemed to fly around them and make play after play. It wasn’t just Talbot and Rinaldo, either- Loui Eriksson was particularly ineffective yesterday, and while Rask didn’t cost his team the game, his career record now stands at 4-15-3 against the Canadiens.
Give the Canadiens credit- they attacked the Boston net, cycled the puck effectively and kept their feet moving throughout. When the Bruins tried to seize on shifting momentum, Condon was there to keep the game in control.
It does no good to belabor the point- there isn’t much more to be said about what happened at Gillette Stadium. With the Washington Capitals and Bruins killer Braden Holtby next on the docket, Boston’s depth will be sorely tested. It’s easy to kill Koko and Griffith for not bringing more to the table, but they didn’t play enough to be responsible for the loss- they simply didn’t play well enough to inspire more of a role the coaches can be confident in. With Marchand out two more games and Krejci gone on a longer timeline, the B’s must get better play from the guys they have.
The team may or may not win more games than they lose in the coming stretch, but how they play is what most will be watching and observing. They can afford any repeat performances of what they brought on Jan. 1.