The Boston Bruins missed out on an opportunity to go back to Long Island with a 2-0 advantage in their playoff series against the NY Islanders after scoring a pair of late third period goals to tie the game and seize momentum.
Tallies by Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand (after Charlie Coyle staked the B’s to a 1-0 lead on the game’s first shot) went for nought when young defenseman Jeremy Lauzon’s attempted pass at the offensive blue line in overtime hit Coyle’s skate and bounced into the neutral zone, allowing Casey Cizikas to break away and fire a rising shot over Tuukka Rask’s shoulder to end it.
For the Bruins, it was a tough break that saw them dig out of a 3-1 hole after giving up three unanswered goals in the second frame. Whether you factor bad puck luck (great for the Islanders, however, especially when Josh Bailey’s attempted pass deflected off of Lauzon’s skate for the first of 2 PP goals), questionable officiating (Brandon Carlo’s penalty in a fracas with Leo Komarov that saw just one player sent to the box in a situation where refs in the playoffs normally send both guys- Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored on the ensuing man advantage to make it 3-1) or just bad execution (Sean Kuraly was slow to get back to his net on Kyle Palmieri’s go-ahead goal allowing him to jam a fortuitous bounce of the end boards past Rask- also in the good puck luck for the Isles category), the B’s came up short in this one in a game they were just one shot away from winning. That’s hockey.
We have seen differing reactions to the winning goal online, and so we’re going to make that the crux of this post-game post, because the two sides seem to be talking past each other.
The Cizikas goal happened when Lauzon, who had possession of the puck at the left point of the Islanders’ blue line, attempted to move it D-to-D to Charlie McAvoy over on the right. Cizikas was skating at Lauzon, attempting to disrupt his decision cycle and had the benefit of forward momentum towards the Boston end. Unfortunately for Lauzon, he didn’t look first- instead whipping the pass laterally into space where Coyle was looping back along the blue line to initiate his own route to the Islanders’ net. The puck hit Coyle’s skate and skittered out into the neutral zone where Cizikas, who was in motion, was able to easily get to it, beating Lauzon at a standstill. From there, it was off to the races and the Islanders evened the series on a nice shot from a player who has been a solid two-way energy guy and role player for them over the past decade.
Now, where the debate comes in is where Lauzon should have tried to move the puck in the first place. When you look closely at the replay, the Islanders players are in an overload to the strong side- in this case- the left half of their defensive zone. Normally, the D-to-D option is open and that’s the play you make to move the puck to the weak side where the other Boston D can use the extra time and space to work the puck to the net or move it to a forward who is deeper in the zone for an attempted shot or to activate the cycle and force the Islanders to adjust their zone coverage. The D-to-D play…typically when the defending team is clogging up the strong side…is the one you opt for because it is the one that will better position your team for a better scoring chance.
The other option for Lauzon, was to move the puck down the left wall (strong side) and get it deep, where the Bruins had a forward below the goal line and would have been in a better than 50-50 possession situation with the nearest Islanders player. In that situation, Lauzon would have gotten the puck to his teammate down low, and created a potential cycle opportunity. Even if the Islanders had forced a change of possession behind their own net, getting the puck deep would have meant that they would have to go all 200 feet *through* the Boston defensive structure to generate a scoring opportunity.
So, in a split-second, pressure situation, Lauzon had to make a decision to make the safer pass to get the puck deep, or the higher percentage offensive play to the opposite point that normally works or had worked at various times during the game. But, we have to key on that word…normally…and whether you observed that the D-to-D play was open all game or not, in this case, it was overtime. And in that situation, the onus is on the players to manage the puck, period. Even if you can argue that the D-to-D play is the best (under normal circumstances) situational play, there are mitigating circumstances:
1. Cizikas was pressuring him, meaning Lauzon wasn’t able to just hold the puck and wait for an obvious lane to open up without exposing himself to the risk of a turnover and the same result of a Cizikas breakaway.
2. It was overtime, meaning that any time you give up the puck to make an attempted pass, you need to understand the risk you are taking and carefully manage where that puck is going. Throwing pucks away is frowned upon in the most “normal” of situations- in regulation- never mind sudden death, where one turnover is all it takes to decide the outcome.
3. Even if the D-to-D play is the correct one in that situation when you are in full possession at the offensive blue line, it is never the right situation to attempt a no-look pass without making sure that the lane is clear AND that your intended target is open. Lauzon did neither- and that is the crux of our argument here.
Those who are saying he was making the right situational play aren’t necessarily wrong, but in overtime, the idea that a no-look D-to-D pass when someone (Coyle) is in the lane and you haven’t even verified that your opposite point target is open and ready to receive that pass, we would argue, is NOT the right situational play. Not in regulation, not in overtime, not ever. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would try to say otherwise. So, what we have here is a situation where some are saying that the intention to go opposite point was the correct one, even we felt from the moment we saw it that the play for one of Lauzon’s ability was to get it deep along the left wall.
Look, we’re not here to kill Lauzon, as he appears to have become yet another high-profile scapegoat in the playoffs for Bruins fans, as his lack of experience is getting exposed and things are snowballing (like the Bailey shot off his skate). He’s made good plays…but he’s also been on the ice for a lot of goals (a team-leading seven in just three games for defensive pairing per 98.5 SportsHub’s Ty Anderson).
It’s unfortunate that in the modern age of social media and instant reactions and analysis where everyone has a platform, the tendency is for a segment of the fanbase to target an individual and pile on. That creates an oppositie reaction for some to want to mitigate the vitriol going Lauzon’s way. It’s understandable, but it doesn’t change the idea that in the case of OT in Game 2, Lauzon’s best option was not the risky, no-look lateral pass, but instead moving the puck down the left side to an open forward below the goal line and into a spot on the ice that even if an unlucky bounce occurred, would not have sprung the Islanders on a breakaway.
In the end, Lauzon’s decision is magnified because it ended up in the back of his net and was a walk-off play for the other team. There’s a lot of frustration with what happened, especially since the B’s battled back to get it to OT and were in position to hand the Isles a soul-crushing defeat and take a stranglehold on the series. That, more than anything, is why we believe Bruce Cassidy called Lauzon’s play “ill-advised.”
Would he have even said that if the D-to-D play was Lauzon’s best option? Make no mistake- if Cassidy had no issues with what Lauzon did, he would have said so. Lauzon made too risky a play there- and it blew up. Cassidy was obviously talking about the fact that he didn’t head check to see where McAvoy (and by extension- Coyle) was- he just hurried the play and unfortunately for the Bruins, the attempted pass hit his teammate’s skate and that was ballgame. However, even if your position is that the attempted pass ending up on Cizikas’ stick was just unfortunate, bad, doo-dah luck, it does not absolve Lauzon of the puck management decision he made with the stakes so high.
Hockey 101- Manage pucks at all times, but especially at both blue lines- turnovers will kill you. The safe play, the right play for Lauzon was to get it deep, period. Easy to say in hindsight, but that’s how players earn their coaches’ trust- they make the right decisions and manage pucks in tough spots. In that situation, Lauzon needed to live to fight another day, not push the envelope. It proved to be a costly error. In Boston’s case, the D-to-D play was the better option for them throughout the game…until it wasn’t.
That’s hockey, though. It is a game played by imperfect humans and Lauzon will no doubt agonize over what he did repeatedly between now and his next chance. He’s a good player, and we find ourselves again in a position where a lot of folks out there seem to expect perfection from players like Lauzon, and turn on them quickly when they don’t go out and flawlessly execute and show perfect poise with and without the puck. At the same time, it is fair to assert that Lauzon has to be better. He’s in a situation where he has an opportunity to play a regular role on this team and the team will seek an upgrade if he doesn’t find a way to be a net positive in his performance. Those are just the cold, hard facts of hockey.
That’s not just hockey, that’s life. And while we respect the view out there that his attempted play was the right one, given his inexperience overall to the situation, that becomes our biggest counterpoint. McAvoy or other high-skilled defenders probably look over, see the ice and can make that D-to-D play. Lauzon is not one of those players at this stage of his development. In his situation, the right play is not necessarily the one that works for everyone else on the ice, and Lauzon needed to keep it simple. Tough lesson- now the onus is on him to learn from it.
Bruins-Islanders are back at it with an extra day of rest on Thursday- we have a series.