BUFFALO The warning signs have been there for weeks. The Bruins needed to start finding ways to finish off more of their offensive chances before it started resulting in painful losses.
Theyve struggled to bury goals on the power play all season and theyve consistently been smack in the middle of the NHL pack while scoring a slightly unimpressive 2.7 goals per game. Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron have combined for 81 shots on goal in 12 games this season, but have only two goals apiece to show for all of that offensive involvement.
Agitating forward Brad Marchand leads the Bruins with seven goals scored on the season, but nobody else on the roster has more than four goals scored.
That inability to cap off enough of their quality offensive chances finally caught up to them Friday night when they couldnt muster more than a 2-1 lead after thoroughly dominating the Buffalo Sabres for 40 minutes. When they were let up off the mat the desperate Sabres outshot the Bruins by a 10-3 margin in the third period and rifled home three unanswered goals for a 4-2 victory at the First Niagara Center.
The biggest thing for me is that we should have put them away after the second period, said Bruins coach Claude Julien, who watched his team outshoot the Sabres 17-6 in the middle 20 minutes and only get one measly goal on the board. We talked about that: were not burying our chances and eventually its going to catch up. Weve got some goal scorers that have to produce, and when theyre not producing it makes it tough.
When you have the opportunities that we had in the second period, theres no way it should have been a 2-1 hockey game. When you have those great opportunities youve got to find a way to bury them. Then we came out in the third period and forgot to do the work, and we forgot the team that we were playing against was a desperate team. They did what they had to do. We didnt deserve this game.
The pathways of offensive futility were numerous for the Black and Gold: Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron both hits posts in the first period on scoring chances directly in front of the net, Nathan Horton launched a shot directly into Ryan Millers chest after Gregory Campbell had freed him up all alone right down the middle of the slot and Tyler Seguin was robbed by Millers glove hand after he tore into the juicy rebound of a Chris Bourque point shot.
Bourque fanned on a one-timer attempt earlier on a first period power play that eventually netted Dougie Hamiltons first career NHL goal, and Chris Kelly couldnt squeeze off a shot after getting the puck from Rich Peverley right in front of the net. Those were just the best of the best chances because up and down the lineup Bruins forwards had umpteen good chances against a forgiving Buffalo defense.
But none of the big offensive forwards finished with a goal for the Bruins in the game, and more than a few were exhibiting signs of frustration on and off the ice. Their coach didnt believe something in the hockey coachs handbook like arbitrary line changes would make much of a difference in this particular case.
As far as scoring chances go its not so much that our lines arent working, its that were not finishing, said Julien. If you change the lines does that mean somebody is going to start finishing more? Ive lamented that for a while too. When that comes around well be that much better, but until then were going to be facing those tight games.
Some of them are already squeezing their sticks, and we see things in the dressing room where a player keeps looking at his sticks over and over again. Every once in a while you cant let the mental part of the game get to you. When you get a chance you just go out and bury it. Sometimes we get a chance and we think its going to be an easy goal. We just need to get a little harder in that area.
So what to do?
The Bruins can continue to apply pressure on themselves and berate the lack of offensive production while they barely skate by winning tight one-goal games and hoping that more teams cant sting them in the third period like Buffalo has on two different occasions this season.
Or they can just continue to put their head down and work their way out of while maximizing the benefit of an agreeable schedule. Theyre facing teams like the Winnipeg Jets, Florida Panthers and New York Islanders that can be easy marks for them if they can start scoring goals the old fashioned way.
The reality is that the Bruins are riding their first losing streak of the season after dropping a shootout to the Rangers and collapsing against the Sabres in their building as the first game of a five game road trip. Its not the end of the world as much as its a valuable wakeup call.
The Bruins players, particularly the forward group, knows that there is work to be done if they want to reach closer to scoring three goals per game as they had while ranking offensively among the NHLs top five franchises over the last few years.
We always set the bar high for ourselves, but I also think we can definitely be better offensively, said Rich Peverley, who was the only Bruins forward to score against Buffalo on Friday night.
The Bruins will continue their search for offensive answers on Sunday in a Winnipeg arena where they didnt exactly excel last season. Nobody said it would be easy but the Bs should know by now that all of the offensive answers that they seek are currently locked up inside of them.