Winter Classic Notes: Bruins’ Defensive Mistakes Prove Costly Vs. Canadiens

FOXBORO, Mass. — The Boston Bruins ended 2015 taking a point in 15 of their last 19 games, and the team’s improved defensive play and the elite goaltending of Tuukka Rask were primary reasons for that success.

Rask, despite giving up five goals, actually was one of Boston’s best players in Friday’s 5-1 NHL Winter Classic loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Gillette Stadium.

Defensive mistakes were the real issue.

Bruins defensemen consistently struggled in defensive zone coverage, clearing rebounds, winning puck battles/races and preventing the Habs from skating into the slot for quality scoring chances.

The Canadiens generated 27 scoring chances, nearly double the Bruins’ total, at even strength Friday, per War on Ice. They also tallied four more high-danger scoring chances and 15 more shot attempts during 5-on-5 play.

The shot chart tells the story (M stands for missed shots, B is blocked shots).

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“I just think we were just mentally not there, I guess,” a frustrated Rask said. “Weren’t executing the game plan like we wanted to in skate.

“When a couple little things go wrong like that it becomes big and then that’s the way it looked like. We gave them a ton of scoring chances in those two periods, which is unlike us. The chances you give up, then you have to create some scoring chances, you know. We didn’t do that.”

The Bruins must look at the tape and improve quickly because their upcoming schedule isn’t easy. Boston’s next four games are against four teams either in, or close to a playoff spot — the Washington Capitals, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers.

— Bruins winger and Boston native Jimmy Hayes, who had a sizable cheering section in attendance, got into it with Canadiens winger Lars Eller in the game’s final minutes, earning each player a double minor for roughing.

“Yeah, it was just two guys competing,” Hayes told reporters. “That’s all it is.”

— Temperatures hovered around the upper 30s and low 40s throughout the game — certainly not frigid by New England standards. But that didn’t prevent Bruins winger Zac Rinaldo from doing his best ninja impression during warmups.

— Liam “The Fist Bump Kid” Fitzgerald was in the house. Everyone’s favorite Bruins fan watched the game from the front row and even handed out one of his signature fist bumps to B’s owner Jeremy Jacobs.

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Bruins president Cam Neely also stopped by to say hello during pregame warmups.

— The award for best sign of the day goes to…

— Canadiens forward Dale Weise left late in the second period and did not return with what the team called an upper body injury. He was seen after the game with his right thumb wrapped.

— Patriots head coach Bill Belichick laced up his skates Thursday morning and joined Julien on the Gillette ice. Reporters asked Celtics coach Brad Stevens on Friday if he’d do the same.

His answer: Not if anyone was watching.

“Wouldn’t be doing it in front of a camera, that’s for sure,” Stevens said, via ESPN.com. “That’s where you know Belichick deserves all the accolades he gets, if he can get out on skates and do that. Because there’s no way — I would fall down anyways, but right when I knew I was being watched, I would be on the ground.”

Stevens also discussed the potential of the Celtics playing an outdoor game of their own next season.

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiaraUSA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Winter classic notes

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