Bean: In the final analysis, this isn’t really Nick Ritchie’s fault

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    It stinks that we keep dwelling on Nick Ritchie, but when you tell the story of the 2019-20 Bruins, he will unfortunately be a major, major part of it.

    When the Lightning made real upgrades at the trade deadline, the Bruins got Ritchie. When the lineup had questions, the Bruins stuck with Ritchie. And when the season was on the line, that stubborn commitment cost them.

    It isn’t Nick Ritchie’s fault that the Bruins saw him as an answer. It isn’t his fault that, after showing he was not that answer, the Bruins doubled down and kept him in the lineup.

    This is more on Don Sweeney and Bruce Cassidy, both of whom are good at their jobs, than it is on Ritchie, who at this point is not good at his. You should have expected more from the Bruins’ decision-makers.

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    Let’s revisit the trade, which in many ways doomed the Bruins’ season. The Bruins approached the trade deadline with the best record in hockey, but obvious issues at wing. They needed a right wing for David Krejci and at least one serviceable option for the third line. Danton Heinen was a solid player having a down year; he needed to be the third best player on that third line.

    Short on cap space, Don Sweeney sent a first-round pick and a prospect to Anaheim for them to take most of David Backes’ contract and send Ondrej Kase back. That gave the Bruins a useful body at wing.

    Then on deadline day came the head-scratcher. Heinen to the Ducks for Ritchie, a top-10 pick in 2014 who hadn’t lived up to expectations but had size (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) that would have attracted teams in past versions of the NHL.

    Ritchie had eight goals in 41 games for the Ducks, which was impressive at first glance, but clearly an outlier given that Ritchie’s shooting percentage (11.4) was way higher than his career average entering this season (8.3). He’d also just scored two goals the day before the trade, which helped disguise a not-very-good season as a good one.

    Nevertheless, the Bruins took the bait on Ritchie and, in an effort to upgrade from Heinen, downgraded. Who knows what could happen, though? Maybe a change of scenery would benefit the player and uncover something he hadn’t been.

    Plus, the deal saved money given that Heinen makes just over $1.3 million more a year than Ritchie. Ideally, the Bruins could have used John Moore or somebody else to create more cap space, then had a trade partner retain money on an established winger, because really, Kase and Ritchie were both question marks.

    Maybe it’s because Heinen is kind of a boring player and maybe it’s because Bruins fans incorrectly think they lost the Cup last year because of a lack of physicality, but the Ritchie acquisition was celebrated. It should have been met with skepticism.

    Since he’s been in the lineup this postseason, it’s been clear that Ritchie was not a useful piece. After Game 2 of the first round, the Bruins scratched Ritchie, an apparent sign that they’d seen enough.

    Yet when the second round began, Ritchie was back skating to the left of Charlie Coyle on the third line. Maybe it’s because Sean Kuraly, used in Ritchie’s place to end the Carolina series, wasn’t healthy enough for the heavier lifting of third-line duty. Maybe it’s because Anders Bjork and Jack Studnicka provided questions of their own.

    Whatever the reason, the Bruins went back to Ritchie and stuck with him. He jammed in a goal in Game 2, but his contributions mostly ended there. A bad retaliatory slash in front of two officials led to the Lightning scoring Game 3’s first goal, then Ritchie provided what might have been the final blow to the Bruins’ season when he threw a late hit on Yanni Gourde in the second period of Game 4.

    « I had no intent to injure anybody » Nick Ritchie talks about his hit against Yanni Gourde pic.twitter.com/69tJNrAha0— NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSBoston) August 29, 2020

    « I had no intent to injure anybody » Nick Ritchie talks about his hit against Yanni Gourde pic.twitter.com/69tJNrAha0

    With Ritchie in the box serving five minutes for boarding, the Lightning scored to make it 3-0 and put the game — and likely series — out of reach.

    After the game, Cassidy vehemently defended Ritchie, saying the hit wasn’t that bad. We can agree to disagree on the severity of the hit, but there is not debating the penalties have been costly. Ritchie takes penalty, other team scores. That’s how it’s worked the last two games.

    This is cruel to the guy. I’m sure Ritchie wants to work through these struggles, but it’s seemingly only getting worse. It would have been best for all parties if the Bruins recognized it hasn’t worked and sent Ritchie back to the press box.

    Maybe they’ll do it for Game 5. It should be obvious, but given the Bruins’ commitment to the player so far, maybe they really will go down clinging to him.

    The Black and Gold plummeted to a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series with a 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday afternoon, and now have no room for error.

    This series has been eerily similar to the second round playoff series two years ago, when the Bruins won the first game and then couldn’t muster anything against a Lightning club that blew them off the ice with four straight wins.

    It feels like we’re all going to see the same movie again on Monday night in an elimination Game 5.

    Obviously, the setting is different, with all the Eastern Conference players quarantined in Toronto due to COVID-19. And the Lightning are playing seriously shorthanded with Steve Stamkos and Ryan McDonagh as significant missing presences that have both been injured for the bulk of the series. But so much remains the same, including Tampa’s strengths of depth and skill, and Boston’s sheer inability to score even strength which has been their downfall in each of the last three postseasons, including this one.

    After Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak were the driving forces behind the offense in the Game 1 win, they have been effectively contained during even strength play just as they were two years ago vs. Tampa Bay’s big defenders. Bergeron has zero points in each of the last three games and just five shots on net, Marchand has just one even strength point and four shots on net in each of the last three games and Pastrnak has just one even strength assist in the last three games, despite 13 shots on net.

    Pastrnak missed a wide-open net in the third period after a sweet Bergeron dish that could have eventually made it a one-goal game late in the third period. Those kinds of missed opportunities are killers against Tampa Bay and make it feel like it’s just not going to happen for Boston.

    Overall, the Bruins have just two 5-on-5 goals over their last three games, and that’s not going to cut it against Tampa Bay. That was going to be part of the message to the B’s players headed into Game 5, but it sure feels like it’s a little too late at this point.

    In a must-win Game 4, Bergeron, Marchand and David Krejci combined for two shots on net and Jake DeBrusk’s power play goal in the third was Boston’s only source of offense.

    That’s just not going to cut it regardless of what’s going on with the defense and the goaltending.

    “We had an opportunity to even the series. The other day I do feel those games happen from time-to-time where the other team is better and they take advantage of opportunities, and they keep getting opportunities and taking advantage of them. I don’t think we had our legs in Game 3. This one I thought we did, we had our energy level and we were competing hard, winning our share of races, winning pucks,” said Bruce Cassidy. “To score goals we have to hit the net more often and force him to make saves and control rebounds. We’re just off net with too many good chances today.

    “They got another opportunity to build on their lead with what we feel is a questionable call [on Nick Ritchie], they did it. They took advantage of it and that’s what good teams do. It put us in a bigger hole and we started working our way out of it, but if you’re going to put yourself in a hole you got to score goals to win games. We weren’t able to do that.”

    The killer in the Game 4 loss was Jaroslav Halak whiffing on an Ondrej Palat one-timer under the bar in the second period. Palat got a good piece of the saucer pass from Nikita Kucherov, but Halak saw the shot and was able to lift his glove hand to make a futile save attempt. The puck glanced off Halak’s glove and into the net, and the Bruins were down 2-0 in the second period after playing pretty well in the middle 20 minutes.

    In the series, Halak now has an .899 save percentage and has given up close to a handful of goals on shots that need to be stopped. It’s pointless to ask what would have happened if Tuukka Rask was in net for the Bruins because that’s not going to happen in this series. But one of the few areas where the Bruins might have had an advantage — goaltending — is now another department where they are now inferior to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Cassidy was asked postgame what his message would be for Game 5, and it was mostly about fixing the many problems that he sees right now.

    “We had some breakdowns in front of our net early on, and we have to correct those and need to be harder. We need to be more assertive in those areas. Guys that we rely on to be hard defensively, good awareness, checking players get scored on the first goal. We didn’t manage the puck again. It usually starts there,” said Cassidy, of the fourth line getting scored on by Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point yet again. “You turn pucks over against Tampa, it starts there. You have to be more assertive with your feet before you move a puck and take some ice. That one came back at us.

    “After that I thought we were better at that. We’ll always talk about the things we do well and correct the things we don’t. I thought the penalty kill is a good example, we did a good job. This is two games in a row we’ve blocked a shot that [ends up] in our net. [That] just doesn’t happen over a long period of time. So some puck luck is not going our way, but having said that, they are a shot-mentality team, and if we had that mentality too maybe we’d get some of these breaks where pucks go in off people. That will be a bit of the message, as well.”

    None of this even gets into the fact that teams aren’t coming back from big deficits like this in the bubble because thoughts of home begin to creep into players’ heads at this point. The Bruins have been away from their families for six weeks and many of Boston’s key players have young families that they’re understandably missing right now.

    That kind of situation is going to chip some of the resolve away from a hockey club that’s down big in a playoff series.

    “It’s all a mentality. We have to regroup and focus on one game at a time. People have been in worse situations and come out on top,” said Charlie Coyle. “We just have to take it this one, one game at a time. Focus on that next game. That is all we can control right now.”

    It’s a nice sentiment from Coyle, but it’s not about mentality when it comes to the Bruins and Lightning. Tampa Bay has clearly shown in the last two postseason meetings they are a better hockey club than the Bruins, and they are doing it again this series.

    The only question now is how many games it will take and what the Bruins are going to do about a better team in their division blocking their way these days.

    It’s clear after four games that something needs to change with the Black and Gold, because it’s not good enough right now. And they may have a long upcoming offseason to think about it.

    Nick Ritchie blasted Yanni Gourde with a late, punishing hit in the second period of Game 4 on Saturday that earned the plodding Bruins winger a five-minute major for boarding.

    Ritchie’s hit was roundly criticized on the NBC broadcast in the studio between periods and had TV analysts, media and Bruins fans alike calling for Ritchie to be benched for the rest of the game. It was a clearly dirty, ill-advised hit that also led to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s crushing third goal in a 3-1 drubbing of the Bruins in Game 4 in the Toronto bubble. 

    Ritchie hit Gourde long after he had released the puck, and the impact far away from the boards slammed the Tampa Bay forward awkwardly into the sideboards after the collision. Gourde was able to finish out the game with no injury, and the Bruins winger said postgame he was simply doing his job and finishing his check with some playoff-level emphasis.

    « I had no intent to injure anybody » Nick Ritchie talks about his hit against Yanni Gourde pic.twitter.com/69tJNrAha0

    “I had no intent to put a guy on the ice and injure anybody. I was just finishing my hit, thought I did a good job keeping my arms down and it was shoulder to shoulder,” said Ritchie. “Maybe he wasn’t expecting it [after] he just got rid of the puck. I’m just playing my game and that’s part of it, sometimes stuff like that happens.”

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    Normally head coach Bruce Cassidy has an even-tempered response postgame to incidents like this, but it sure sounded like he believes the B’s got the short end of the stick.

    Bruce Cassidy had some thoughts about Nick Ritchie’s hit that led to a five-minute major pic.twitter.com/7Lrv2Xxq1q

    Perhaps Cassidy is in desperation mode now down 3-1 in a series to Tampa Bay again with little hope of coming back, and backed his power forward’s transgression while chiding Gourde for acting his way into a bigger penalty for the Bruins. This wasn’t the usual Cassidy assessment of things postgame, but perhaps the B’s coach realizes that the same old, same old isn’t working for the Bruins against a deeper, more talented Lightning group.

    Or perhaps Cassidy is watching coaches like Craig Berube and Jon Cooper work the officials against the Bruins in playoff series with whining and lobbying, and he’s doing something that he thinks might work for the Black and Gold. Either way it sounds like Cassidy thinks the Bruins got screwed with the five minute major call.

    “There was no [penalty] call, and then it turned into a five-minute major. I’m not sure, I guess we’ll get an explanation or we won’t, I don’t know, I didn’t get one of why that changed. Clearly Gourde was down on the play, he’s a good player, a real good player for them, clever obviously, got them on the power play for five minutes,” said Cassidy.

    “He finished the game and had no problems in the third period. I didn’t agree with the call. As I said, [Karson] Kuhlman got hit by [Cedric] Paquette late in the first period. [It was] a very, very, very, very, very similar hit, no call. But I guess we’ll ask that question [and] find out what the thinking was.”

    Cassidy was referencing a shoulder-to-shoulder hit against the end boards in the first period when Paquette slammed into Kuhlman, and then Ritchie put the Bruins shorthanded for a couple of minutes by jumping a player in Paquette who’s never going to answer the bell. Some of the characteristics of the hit were similar, but the Ritchie was definitely later and further away from the boards making it a more reckless action. 

    “He’s finishing a check, it happens all the time. [Ritchie] played through a player’s shoulder as I saw it. Shoulder to shoulder…hard. I don’t know if the explanation was it was late or if it was a 225-pound man hitting a 170-pound man and that’s why the penalty is called, » said Cassidy. 

    « I thought Paquette did the same thing, if not worse, to Kuhlman in the first period. The standard is set, that’s what officials do, they set the standard and the players adjust to it and adapt to it game in and game out. I thought [Ritchie] did a good job. That’s what he’s asked to do: Be hard on people, stick up for your teammates, go to the net, score dirty goals, make plays off the wall and all those things. 

    “So that hit was part of the job description and he did it. They reversed the call and at the end of the day, it went against us. We want Ritch to be physical, not reckless, and that’s what we thought it was, but it didn’t work out that way.”

    It bears watching to see if any of Cassidy’s comments have an impact on how Game 5 is called on Monday night with Boston’s back up against the wall, and a clear need for desperation and urgency out of his Bruins team. 



    SOURCE: https://www.w24news.com

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