Bruins vs. Leafs takeaways: B's defense a mess in brutal loss to Toronto

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Bruins-Leafs takeaways: B's defense a mess in brutal loss to Toronto originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs played Saturday night in the first meeting between these historic Original Six rivals since November of 2019.

The B's scored first and then it all went downhill from there. Poor special teams and bad defense overall were the primary factors in the Bruins losing 5-2 at Scotiabank Arena. 

Next up for the Bruins is a Tuesday night matchup versus the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden.

Sorry Bruins fans, a Jack Eichel trade in 2021 was always a long shot

Here are three takeaways from Bruins-Leafs.

1) Where's the defense?

The Bruins were going up against one of the most talented forward groups in the league and were outplayed. The Leafs held a 26-21 advantage in scoring chances during 5-on-5 play (36-31 in all situations) and scored five times -- two goals each by elite centers Auston Matthews and John Tavares.

As the heat map (via Natural Stat Trick) below illustrates, the Leafs had a bunch of prime chances in the danger areas around the B's net (see the red). The Bruins just couldn't clear the front of the net.

"Even the last goal. We just get outworked right in front of our goaltender by Tavares," Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said after the game. "We've got to decide…we've got to work harder to keep the puck out of our net in this league. We've had the identity of being that team and we've got to reclaim it."

The Bruins also gave up two power-play goals, and they've allowed three of these tallies over the last two games. Giving a team with as much offensive firepower as the Leafs four power plays is a recipe for disaster. Derek Forbort's lackluster clearing attempt right before Matthews' first power-play goal was a play he has to make in that spot.

Speaking of Fobort, he's been one of the weak links for the B's early in the season. He actually began the campaign playing on the top pairing next to Charlie McAvoy -- an experiment that was a bad idea at the time and went exactly as expected.

Instead of giving the Bruins more physicality, shot blocking and strong penalty killing, Forbort has been a liability for long stretches of games this season. He did not play well in his own zone against the Leafs.

Here are some interesting numbers on Forbort's disappointing performance through nine games:

The Bruins gave Forbort a three-year, $9 million contract in free agency over the summer. He needs to be a lot better or this contract could be a real burden on the team's salary cap flexibility.

2) Leafs' big stars outplayed the Bruins'

The Leafs' three best players -- Tavares, Matthews and Mitchell Marner -- provided all the firepower for Toronto. Tavares scored a pair of even-strength goals, Matthews added two on the power play and Marner scored a goal along with three assists. These three stars combined to tally 14 shots on net, too.

The Bruins' top players weren't bad. David Pastrnak scored in the third period and Taylor Hall opened the scoring with a power-play goal in the first period. Brad Marchand tallied two assists. But it wasn't good enough on a night where the opponents' top players were firing on all cylinders. 

Craig Smith is a second-line right winger who has scored 20-plus goals five times. He has scored zero goals this season, while being on the ice for five goals against during 5-on-5 play. He put one shot on the Leafs' net Saturday night. Jake DeBrusk did the same.

The Bruins need much more from their secondary scorers because they can't keep relying on the top line to carry most of the offensive burden, especially against top teams such as the Leafs.

3) Bruins can't afford to fall too far behind

The B's are 11th (out of 16 teams) in the Eastern Conference in points percentage through nine games with a 5-4-0 record. They are 1-4-0 on the road.

The Bruins are fifth in the division entering Sunday. Obviously, they have two or three games in hand on the teams above them given their weird schedule so far, but those games in hand aren't guaranteed to be victories. The Atlantic Division is probably the toughest in the league. The Florida Panthers are off to a historic 10-0-1 start. The Leafs are 7-4-1 after winning five consecutive games. The two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning remain an elite squad.

Finishing fourth is a very real possibility for the Bruins if they don't turn things around. That scenario would likely leave them without home ice advantage in any playoff round and present a tough opponent to begin the postseason -- assuming they make it, of course. 

It's very early in the season, but given the competitiveness in the division, the Bruins don't have too much more time to begin to right the ship.