BOSTON — Another home loss to a playoff-caliber team tonight — 4-2 to Philadelphia — left the Boston Bruins wondering if they’ve got a case of Jekyll-Hyde-itis.
The personality that helped the current squad reach the top of the Eastern Conference for the better part of the last four months has suddenly deserted the team and left a different character — one that more resembles last season’s club, which at this time a year ago was fighting tooth and nail for a playoff berth.
“There’s emotion and identity just missing right now. And as a team, you’ve got to get that. But individually you’ve got to really step up the excitement to play hockey. … We just feel like a faceless team right now,” said defenseman Andrew Ference, who wears an ‘A’ but should someday wear a ‘C.’ “We’re just kind of going out there and playing. The system is good enough on some nights to get us through that. But you’re not going to consistently do well if you just kind of play that style. That’s not what got us to the position that we’re at.”
A number of other players echoed those sentiments. And that, despite the fact that the listless loss came on the heels of the disappointing overtime defeat to Washington Saturday, is actually positive news. That the Bruins recognize there’s a problem and what the problem is, proves that this just might be a little blip on the radar and not a prelude to some catastrophic collapse that suddenly ends with the Bruins looking up at New Jersey (now just six points back in the race for the No. 1 seed) in the standings at the season’s close.
“It’s easy to lose it and hard to turn it back on,” defenseman Aaron Ward said.
“It” is what former Bruins coach Dave Lewis called “mojo” and what his replacement Claude Julien calls “his team’s groove.” Unlike Stella, the Bruins won’t have to head to the Bahamas to try to get this groove back. They just need to head to the net, barrel down the slot and wreak havoc in the corners. They’ve done it before, and over long periods of time. I saw them with my own two eyes.
The problem is some players might’ve gotten a little full of themselves. Some guys are resting on their laurels. And, oh yeah, the Bruins’ “King of Crash” Milan Lucic is missing from the equation due to injury. But if there are players that used to play the “Bruins way” that aren’t going to revert to form, than general manager Peter Chiarelli is going to have to bring in some that will. A minor tweak to this roster, a veteran forward desperate for one more chance at the Cup (Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts, Bill Guerin) could very well do the trick. Otherwise, it might be time to stick Shawn Thornton or Byron Bitz — who along with Stephane Yelle continue to form the Bruins’ most consistent line — with another pair of forwards to give other another line an adrenaline shot.
That cushy lead in the Eastern Conference has suddenly gotten a little prickly. But it’s far too early to panic and this problem is easily curable. The club has already taken the first step by admitting its shortcomings, now all the Bruins have to do is get a grip on the antidote and banish Mr. Hyde forever.