BOSTON – We knew going into this week the Bruins would still be without Marc Savard, Marco Sturm and Johnny Boychuk, and David Krejci would probably be joining that star-packed trio on the sidelines.
But we just didn’t know exactly how shorthanded the Bruins would be until they mailed in two important divisional games against Montreal and Ottawa, capped by a listless 2-0 loss to the Senators tonight at TD Garden.
Despite their injury problems, the Bruins are still dressing the typical 18 skaters. That doesn’t mean there are 18 guys putting forth a full effort. And that’s why you now have a Bruins team that has lost four of five overall (with the one win featuring just 20 solid minutes of “Bruins hockey”) and three straight at home.
“We’re not in sync … and it starts from the back end. You’ve got to move the puck quick and you’ve got to move it well,” said frustrated Bruins coach Claude Julien, trying to spread the blame out among his entire roster. “Your forwards have to be able to handle those passes, which I thought they struggled with those tonight as well. And when you’ve got speed and you put the puck in deep and you’ve got some speed to go and retrieve it, then you’re in sync. Tonight we had none of that. Absolutely none. The transition from the back end was almost non-existent.
“We couldn’t handle a pass and then when we did end up dumping it, we never put it in an area where we gave our guys a chance to retrieve it. And that’s not to, by the way, take away the credit that the other team deserves. I think they played a great game. We were just a bad team tonight. Probably looked more like the team that played that first game in Prague.”
They might’ve looked like the team that opened the season in sour fashion in the Czech Republic or the one that allowed the hated Canadiens to leave town with an easy two points Thursday. The opening-night debacle could be forgiven. These last two defeats, they’re a major cause for concern. If some of Julien’s skating zombies don’t turn human again before the return of the club’s recovering wounded, this team might be in for a major tailspin.
The first few weeks of the season, we were ready to let Tyler Seguin and Jordan Caron share the Calder Trophy. Now it’s just a matter of how long the Bruins want to wait before sending Caron down to the Providence farm club and if they can figure out a way to get Seguin going by playing him out on the wing or by watching a few contests from the press box. The NHL game seems to have passed Caron by despite his solid positional play and instincts. He has even seemed overpowered in battles.
Boston was able to overlook Seguin’s lapses in the defensive end and his giveaways in critical areas when everyone else was clicking around him. Now his gaffes, like losing the draw clean that led to Ottawa’s first goal tonight, can’t be patched over. After firing two shots on net in each of the Bruins’ three previous games, he didn’t get a shot on Ottawa goaltender Brian Elliott tonight and posted a minus-2 rating.
Daniel Paille allegedly got back in the lineup after he was a healthy scratch for 10 straight contests. Other than winning a race to cancel an icing tonight, he has done as much in his three games back as he did while wearing a suit. Patrice Bergeron is now centering the first line, yet he’s still stuck on just two goals. Nathan Horton must be suffering from some sort of “Florida flashback” because he has gone score-less in four straight home games.
Matt Hunwick and Mark Stuart on the back end continue to look like a pair of prospects that have hit a plateau in their development and every time they try to do something to diversify their game, it winds up biting them in the rear. Boychuk can’t make his way back soon enough, but the difficult decision will be which defenseman gets to stay in the lineup rather than who comes out to make one spot open up for Boychuk.
Mark Recchi, who acquired his first fighting major since 2004 tonight, joked afterwards that he had to throw down the gloves because someone has to pick up the brawling slack now that Shawn Thornton (three goals) is a scorer. Humor is sometimes best when it’s true. In this case, it’s true and it’s sad.
Thornton, Brad Marchand and Gregory Campbell, even when not at their best tonight in the loss, still formed the only line that was working hard, forechecking and creating offense. Another Recchi statement from one last season might be even more appropriate for the Bruins’ current state than his quip about fighting. Recchi said during one rough stretch that there were too many passengers on the team. Well, there are plenty of guys that are just along for the ride right now.
It might be just coincidence that things started to go south once Boston was down to just 18 available skaters. You’d like to think it wouldn’t take the competition from training camp and from the early season – with two spare forwards and an extra D around – to light a fire under guys being paid to work their butts off for 60 or so minutes of hockey. You’d also like to think that they weren’t looking at Boston’s cap and thinking about how difficult it would be for general manager Peter Chiarelli to make a call-up or two, and a demotion or two, to shake things up. But maybe it’s just human nature to pull off the gas after things start out so peachy.
A combination of complacency, the rigors of the NHL wearing on a couple rookies and good old-fashioned lack of ability is keeping the Bruins from rising out of the middle of the pack in the East at this point. Everyone’s so worried about which guys are going to be sliced off the salary cap to make room for Savard and Sturm when they come off long-term injury. It might be more appropriate to pick a guy or two to jettison and make room for a prospect like Joe Colborne or Steve Kampfer, or maybe even a puck-moving defenseman currently skating with another organization (if such a player would even be available).
When you want to know whether the Bruins are playing well, you watch how they forecheck, how hard they work in the corners and whether they’re establishing a net-front presence. That’s as accurate a gauge as watching that button pop on the Thanksgiving turkey. Those things have been non-existent in the last week or so, and all in all the Bruins’ play is for the birds.