PHILADELPHIA – It was like two totally different games had been played judging by the disparate reactions after Saturday’s lousy, uninspired 3-1 loss to the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center.
On the one side was a group of Bruins players that didn’t seem fazed in the least that they’d just lost for the fifth time in the last seven days. Even worse they had just squandered two points to a reeling Flyers team already essentially packing up their equipment in bubble wrap for next season.
Shawn Thornton said the problems for he and his teammates stem from “trying a little bit too hard.” Nearly every Bruins player that spoke postgame lamented the need “to bear down” on scoring chances. That seemed pretty obvious given that the Bruins fired off 67 total shots (shots that landed on net, shots that were blocked and shots that missed the target) in 60 minutes of frustrating hockey, and managed to produce only a single goal in the third period.
“I don’t think it’s a lack of effort right now. I think it’s just a lack of execution,” said Thornton. “For whatever reason, we were squeezing our sticks in the first two periods. We’re just not making plays that we’re capable of making. I honestly think the effort was there.
“I don’t know if we’re trying a little bit too hard and we’re just bobbling things right now. We just need to get back to having fun and making plays. We’re a good team.”
There’s no doubt the effort was there for Thornton, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell as it always is. The effort and desire is always there for Patrice Bergeron even if he had a rare crappy day at the office losing 13-of-20 face-offs and finishing a game-worst minus-2.
But beyond those four players – and guys like Jay Pandolfo that are giving an honest day’s work but aren’t going to factor into the offensive end – it was hard to uncover many Bruins “trying too hard” among the forward groups.
Nathan Horton scored the team’s only goal and has markers in each of his last two games, but he also missed a bunny at the end of the second period on the rebound chance of an Andrew Ference shot. In a scene that’s looked altogether too familiar lately, No. 18 took too long and didn’t get any lift on a shot at a wide open net. Horton’s sluggish reaction allowed Ilya Bryzgalov to recover and knock the puck away.
He was much better in the third period when he attacked the net and snapped home the rebound of a Dennis Seidenberg shot to put Boston on the board. But Horton should be 2-for-2 when it comes to scoring on open nets rather than just 1-for-2, and that meant the difference between zero points and at least pushing things to overtime.
That’s been par for the course for most of a season leading into unrestricted free agency that should have been the right winger’s best. But Horton’s 10 goals on the season have been mixed with little urgency and almost non-existent physicality from a big-bodied player that could be a tone-setter.
At least Horton has a viable excuse given that he’s coming back from a couple of nasty concussions, and tentativeness is to be expected in his game. That goes doubly so in Horton’s first return to the Wells Fargo Center where his season ended last year thanks to a Tom Sestito blindside head shot.
But there’s no excuse for this: Lucic led all forwards with 20:51 of ice time and managed only a single shot on net with little surliness against a team that should always breed some hate. Brad Marchand had a single shot on net and was a virtual non-factor at either end of the ice in every regard. When both of Boston’s emotional bellwethers – Lucic and Marchand – are invisible that portends bad things for the Black and Gold.
That’s exactly what happened on Saturday afternoon in what should be a rock bottom dose of reality.
Julien recognized that Horton and David Krejci were probably his best forwards on the day, but he couldn’t find anybody else capable of sustaining momentum once it got rolling. There was no effort to intimidate a weakened Flyers bunch, and no willingness to do the dirty work in front to get a few pucks through a porous defense ranking 26th in the NHL while letting up 3.1 goals per game.
For far too long the Bruins have had just one forward group show up for work each night, and it continues to burn them. Let’s cue the coach, who seemed to be watching a different game than his players.
“It’s one of those nights where you’re not able to sustain anything,” said Julien. “Even though we fell behind 1-0, I think we looked quick and we were playing with some jump. But you’re only playing good in spurts, and the next [forward] line can’t follow it up. We’re not able to sustain much right now. The biggest challenge right now is that we have one line that’s scoring and the other three don’t do a thing.
“It’s a different line in another game, and then the other three [aren’t going]. We can’t win hockey games relying on one line per night producing for us. There is definitely some catching up to be done. The second period was the most disorganized or erratic from our end: guys fanning on one-timers, bobbling pucks and guys squeezing their sticks. We need to relax a little. But we also need to wake up and play Bruins hockey. Because that’s not what we’re playing right now.”
That’s a big part of the reason they’ve dropped five of their last seven games – and fallen behind by a 2-0 score in each of their last four straight contests. That is not Boston Bruins hockey and Claude Julien seemed to be the only one to recognize it in Saturday’s postgame dressing room.
“If we’re looking for help, we’re looking in the wrong direction,” said Julien. “We really need to start looking at ourselves because as a team right now we’re not playing well. We’re very average in all areas and we’re not playing Bruins hockey. We can out-shoot teams all night long, but it doesn’t mean much.”
As striking as Julien’s critical words were, they are all the more so when placed next to the “ho-hum” reaction from his players. What should have been a guaranteed two points against a Flyers team that Boston has owned in the past became just one of 48 on the schedule.
“I feel like the puck is bouncing a lot. Maybe we’re not as confident as we should be, for some reason. We’re not making strong plays,” said David Krejci, who shared the team lead with Rich Peverley while firing four shots on net in defeat. “We’re making simple plays, but the puck is bouncing all over the ice. I don’t know what it is. Maybe we have to loosen up a little bit and trust in ourselves.”
Blaming bouncing pucks and squeezed sticks isn’t Boston Bruins hockey.
Finding excuses and dodging hard questions after an emotionally detached, uninspired loss to a bad team isn’t Bruins hockey. Falling down without a whimper as things slowly swirl down the toilet bowl, with less than a month until playoffs, isn’t Bruins hockey.
The B’s clearly need some outside help for a roster that’s been beaten down by the 48-game shortened sprint, and that’s as readily obvious to Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli as it is to everybody else.
But whoever arrives before the April 3 trade deadline isn’t going to be wearing Blue and Red rights or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
The Bruins need to simply start playing Boston Bruins hockey immediately, or none of that is going to matter when it becomes another “one and done” for the Black and Gold where it really matters: in the playoffs.