A D-zone collapse masks the most concerning trend for Bruins this season

Bruins

“We always want to be in attack mode and be the hunters out there.”

Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak slides into Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson during second period NHL action at TD Garden.
The Boston Bruins struggled to put away the Ducks on Thursday night at TD Garden. Matthew J Lee / The Boston Globe

Jim Montgomery knows most of the scrutiny directed toward the Bruins following their first loss of the season will center on a maddening two minutes of play on Thursday night.

After relinquishing just seven total goals over their first six games of the season, a normally stout Bruins roster let two goals sail into twine over the final two minutes of regulation en route to an eventual 4-3 overtime loss to the rebuilding Ducks.

It was a frustrating result for a once-undefeated Bruins roster. But on a night where failed clears and a bevy of bounces made the Bruins pay, Montgomery won’t harp much on those final two minutes — at least once Friday’s film review is wrapped and the game tape mercifully burned.

For Boston’s bench boss, the most concerning trend for his team was rooted in the first 15 minutes of the third period, with the Bruins failing on multiple occasions to extend their lead and down the Ducks before that disastrous finish.

Given their personnel between the pipes and stingy D corps, there likely won’t be many games where Boston coughs up four or more goals. But it remains to be seen if the Bruins have the offensive firepower — and finishing touch — to put games away well before the final horn sounds.

“We could have extended our lead to four or five,” Montgomery said. “We had many opportunities to do it. And we didn’t finish the game.”

It was to be expected for the Bruins’ scoring punch to be sapped in 2023-24, especially after an offseason that saw 80 goals and 210 points exit via free agency, trade, or retirement.

Much like last season, the Bruins are adhering to Montgomery’s preaching of quality over quantity in terms of shot selection. Through seven games, the Bruins rank seventh in the NHL in 5v5 high-danger scoring chances generated per 60 minutes (12.61).

But that emphasis on high-danger shots in and around the crease doesn’t always translate into tangible production, with a gap in finishing ability and a recurring knack for overpassing cutting into Boston’s bottom-line production in the offensive zone.

Even with a few potent playmakers and snipers in place like David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, the Bruins are still trying to put the pieces together when it comes to formulating four cohesive forward trios.

It’s both a testament to a rookie’s scorching start — and a slight indictment on the rest of Boston’s forward corps — that 19-year-old Matthew Poitras ranks second on the team in individual high-danger scoring chances generated per 60 minutes (4.98), behind only James van Riemsdyk.

“Scoring in general, I think, is going to be a little bit of a work in progress,” Montgomery said. “Defensively, we’ve been pretty good at five on five. And then offensively. We’re getting better. You see it coming, but it’s clearly — off the rush especially, we’re not where we need to be.”

So far this season, Boston is in the middle of the pack as far as scoring — ranking 15th in the NHL in goals per game at 3.14. An inconsistent power play has not helped Boston’s pedestrian scoring output, with the Bruins 19th in the league after cashing in on just 16.0 percent of their opportunities on the man advantage.

Boston even had a chance to build themselves a 4-1 cushion midway through the third period after Frank Vatrano cross-checked Hampus Lindholm, but were unable to push across what would have been the coup de grace against Anaheim.

As ugly as the optics of Thursday’s loss were, the Bruins can put it in the rearview mirror with a bounce-back showing against a resurgent Red Wings team on Saturday.

But after opening the year with seven games against opponents that boasted a combined record of 160-197-53 last season, the road will get much tougher for Boston.

Along with two matchups against Detroit (10/28; 11/4), the Bruins will also host the Panthers (10/30) and Maple Leafs (11/2) before heading down to Dallas to battle the Stars (11/6).

It’s a daunting stretch against several teams that Boston could face in the postseason — and have the firepower in place to make the Bruins pay if they can’t deliver a knockout blow in the offensive zone.

“Doesn’t matter how many goals you’re up. You’re never that safe,” Charlie Coyle said. “You can’t get complacent and you want to always be in attack mode and do it the right way. Because when you start to get complacent, you started to sit back — that’s when things creep in and you’re kind of playing not to lose, even though you’re in the lead. And you can’t have that mindset.

“So that’s something we can definitely kind of put to the forefront here in our minds and learn from that. We always want to be in attack mode and be the hunters out there, no matter what the score is. You do that the right way? Those are the hardest teams to play, when a team has the lead like that and they keep coming, have their structure and they do those little details.”


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