Haggerty: Bruins seeking right cure for tired, heavy legs

Haggerty: Bruins seeking right cure for tired, heavy legs
March 26, 2013, 10:45 am
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In a compacted season where the Bruins knew a realm of pain waited for them in the game-dense final two months, the time has come for the team to ease back off the gas pedal.

Perhaps slowing the Black and Gold bus ever so slightly will yield better results on the ice where that little “extra” has been missing in Boston most of the year.

Part of the team’s recent lackluster 1-3 road trip through Pittsburgh and Eastern Canada was a lack of desperation and fight, and a portion of that clearly stems from a Boston hockey club still looking to find their consistent stride.

But there’s also a fatigue factor that goes along with playing 17 games in 31 days during the month of May, and holding only one two day stretch of “off” practice days over the final two months of the season. Playing so many games in so few days will lead to concrete in the skating boots, and will also lead to injuries that have knocked out Chris Kelly, Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk.

Those two things have led to a halt in goal scoring where the Bruins haven’t scored more than two goals in a game since March 16, and produced only eight goals in their last five games. Brad Marchand has one goal in his last 11 games, Nathan Horton has one goal in 14 games during the month of March and Lucic finally potted his first goal in 16 games on Monday night.

Both Horton and Tyler Seguin didn’t manage a single shot on net in Monday’s game against the Leafs.

A moment to exhale is something the Bruins are searching for.  

To wit Zdeno Chara was stumped in the postgame locker room when trying to figure out what day of the week it was, and which night they’d be hosting a big game against the Montreal Canadiens later in the week (it’s Wednesday, for the record).

“I knew we were still pretty close to the weekend, but I had no idea,” admitted Chara.

Clearly part of it is the stoic Bruins captain being “in the zone”, but it’s also a sure sign of a Bruins club that’s been trapped in a three-week whirlwind that won’t be ending until April 27.

After the Bruins gritted their way through a 3-2 shootout win over the Maple Leafs at TD Garden, Claude Julien called for the carousel to stop because his hockey club wants to get off the ride.

“To me it was a gusty effort . . . not a pretty effort, but a gutsy one,” admitted Julien. “Until [Toronto] scored their second goal, we really weren’t that good. I don’t think the will and desire is not there, more than it is that we’re a little heavy right now in our play.

“We’ve lost some speed and everything else that comes with it. It was a gutsy effort, anyways, from our part. Nothing is as quick as it has been. We’re trying to figure out whether the fatigue factor has played into that. I think we are tired, so we’re going to have to look into that a little bit more. It’s not from lack of will, more than they seemed to be a little tired right now. That’s our assessment of our team.”

That isn’t going to happen, of course.

But the Bruins are going to begin scaling back on their practice schedule, and likely going into more of a playoff mode where they won’t take the ice to skate on days between games. In some instances they’ll squash morning skate instead and let players rest going into the game as Julien did on Monday against the Leafs. Julien also cancelled a scheduled practice for Tuesday, and will instead give the players a day to begin focusing on a battle for first place against the Habs on Wednesday night.

“There’s different ways of skinning a cat I guess, and some of it would be [canceling morning skate], and some of it would be getting more days off, and getting a good morning skate,” said Julien, who is still trying to find that magic formula. “I think we have to look at those different options at different times.”

That kind of thing could help the Bruins find what they’re looking for in their game as the NHL regular season gauntlet continues: the Bruins play their final 17 games in 32 days and have two upcoming back-to-back situations in a span of 11 days starting this weekend against the Flyers and Sabres.

So what are the Bruins seeking most in this time of toil and heavy legs?

“Consistency . . . I think at this time of the year that’s what everybody is looking for — consistency and having that right approach going towards the end of the season and the playoffs,” said Chara. “It’s a big win for us. We have an even bigger game coming up on Wednesday. I wouldn’t call it [a turning point] or any of that. It was just a big win, and we got to get ready starting tomorrow for Montreal.”

That’s the question the Bruins will ultimately have to answer over the final month of the regular season. Will the desire to capture the division and climb up the Eastern Conference, hopefully with a couple of new faces brought into the mix via trades before April 3, trump the plodding slog through the second half of the season?

Will that kind of second wind push down the stretch be worth if it leaves the Black and Gold gasping for breath when the playoffs begin in a matter of days after the regular season grind finally begins to subside?

They are unusual circumstances in a decidedly strange 48-game shortened schedule due to the lockout, and a challenge for coaching staffs all across the NHL attempting to do the right thing. For now Julien is staying the whip with rest and recharged batteries as the order of the day, and hoping that will make the difference as Boston begins its month-long push for the playoffs.