Ryan: In midst of crucial stretch, shorthanded Bruins are bottoming out at worst possible time

Adam Richins Photography

Bruce Cassidy summed it up best following Boston’s 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the Florida Panthers Tuesday — the third loss in the last four outings for a shorthanded club finally starting to feel the effects of some momentous vacancies sprinkled across its roster.

“Tonight, it was men against boys at times, it looked like,” Cassidy said. “Some of our younger players had their hands full. … We’ve got to find a solution.”

The downturn most Bruins fans were expecting almost immediately following injuries to Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy,  Zdeno Chara and many more have finally come to fruition — and at the worst possible time.

After capturing points in six of seven games following Chara’s injury against the Avalanche back on Nov. 14, the bottom has finally fallen out on a patchwork B’s roster — with Boston getting outscored by a 14-6 margin in its last four outings.

What were the pillars of this Bruins team in wake of so many injuries — strong team defense, stout goaltending, effective special teams — largely eroded on Tuesday night, with 39 saves by Jaroslav Halak standing in the way of an even more heinous final score.

“What we’ve done over the past four, five weeks as we’ve got depleted on the blue line is that we’ve stayed in games, played good team defense, gotten goaltending, which we got for the most part tonight,” Cassidy said. “Our power play has picked us up when we needed it and some timely scoring.”

Defensive lapses are to be expected when you still have players like Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon logging heavy minutes night in and night out, but it was NHL regulars like Torey Krug or green forwards such as Ryan Donato that were the culprits on Tuesday.

Both skaters caught flat footed on numerous sequences — including a rough stretch in which Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson evaded both players along the boards before beating Halak off the (largely) unopposed rush.

As a whole, Boston has managed to collect points at a steady pace thanks to its goaltending and overall defensive structure — with Boston entering Tuesday’s tilt with the fewest goals allowed at 64 on the year through 26 games.

And while Boston has outshot opponents at five-on-five play in five of their last seven outings, the writing has been on the wall for a game like this — with defensive breakdowns compounding the issues facing a team ranked 26th in goals per game entering Tuesday night.

During those past seven games, Boston has been on edge in high-danger scoring chances in all but two of those matchups — with Tuesday’s loss standing as the latest example of Boston’s goaltending having to bail out a roster struggling to find its way.

“Our team defense wasn’t good enough,” Cassidy said. “Poor gaps all night. Didn’t move the puck on the back end nearly crisp enough,. And that’s going to happen sometimes. We do have some guys learning their way, but you can’t use that as an excuse.”

And while five goals allowed on any night is a tough pill to swallow, the biggest concern for this club remains the lack of secondary scoring — a trend that has lingered with the B’s far beyond this recent skid.