It's Groundhog Day for Bruins


It's Groundhog Day for Bruins

MONTREAL It certainly appears the Bruins are locked in the hockey version of Groundhog Day.

They keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Their will to win flags after the slightest hints of adversity early in the game. Their third-period bursts when trying to erase a deficit always seem to come up short.

That doesnt even take into account the brain-dead retaliation penalties they're being lulled into while playing catch-up a key element that helped again sink the Bruins in a 4-2 loss to the Canadiens at the Bell Centre Saturday night.

The loss capped a home-and-home sweep at hands of their arch-rivals and dropped the Bruins to 3-7. The start is the worst by a defending Stanley Cup champion since the Edmonton Oilers won in 1990, and then limped out to a 2-11-2 start to a 1990-91 season that eventually led them all the way to the Western Conference Finals.So there's hope for the B's, but a rough start has become a serious impediment to success in today's NHL.

I believe in this team, said captain Zdeno Chara. "I know that were in a deep hole, but if anybody can get out of it its this team."

Not if they keep following the exact same pattern, night after night after night.

Boston has stormed strongly out of the starting gate more often that not in the first 10 games, but theyve encountered serious difficulties finishing offensive plays.

Sometimes its the inability to hit a wide-open net or finish off a great pass, which was the case with Daniel Paille, Nathan Horton and Chris Kelly early Saturday night.

But more often its been about hitting posts rather than twine. Its what happened in the first period when both a Rich Peverley backhand and a Brad Marchand shot from the high slot dinged off the left post.

Once the Bs came up empty in both golden scoring chances, frustration crept in quickly.

The Bruins started getting out of their flow, both offensively and defensively, and got away from what makes them successful. Mix in a Brian Gionta power-play goal and a Lars Eller scorched strike that opened up when Horton stumbled on the ice, and the Bruins truly started leaking oil.

The frustration brought about the retaliation penalties, and thats when things truly went awry.

We want to be physical, but we have to be smart about it, said Chara. We can't be retaliating like that. Guys dont want to take bad penalties, but thats the way its happening right now. Im sure if you asked them, they would take those things back.

Its okay to play with emotions, but weve got to be smart about it.

For the second time this season the Bruins lost their composure in a game they were trailing that was still winnable. Andrew Ference was lulled into a roughing penalty in the second period while taking a quick punch at Habs defensemen P.K. Subban, who stirred things up with a bump behind the net. That led to a David Desharnais power-play goal and a 3-0 lead for the Habs.

But the Bruins werent done shooting themselves squarely in the foot. Eight minutes later Milan Lucic slashed at Subban when the Habs defensemen started messing with the Bs power forward, and once again the refs caught Bostons return volley.

The slash was less than three minutes after Lucic went upstairs with a wrist shot to put the Bruins on the scoreboard, so it wasn't exactly perfect timing.

Later, Horton put the Canadiens on the power play again when, after a battle in front of the net with Hal Gill, he cross-checked the behemoth blueliner.

We cant retaliate, said Brad Marchand. We have to be able to take it and hurt them on the scoreboard. We have to be better in that area. We know what we have to do to be better. Its just a matter of us finally going out and doing it.

What followed the penalties was the final trait that those around the Bruins have set their watches to this season: the mad, desperate scramble in the third period to make up for the shortcomings of the first 40 minutes.

The Bruins outshot the Habs 12-3 in the final 20 minutes, and even closed it to 3-2 in the final minute when Tyler Seguin stepped through traffic to snap home his team-leading fourth goal after they'd pulled Tuukka Rask for a sixth skater.

But it all turned into another futile third-period push for a Bruins team that isnt consistently playing hard, isnt playing well at all in front of Rask, and still has too many key players like Horton and David Krejci serving more as passengers than active participants.

The lack of urgency was underscored by this stat: Montreal defensemen Gill and Jaroslav Spacek blocked as many shots (12) by themselves as the Bruins did as a team.

Its frustrating to lose. We have some things we have to work on, said coach Claude Julien. When we all get on the same page and we start trusting each other thats when then things are going to get better.

Right now there is some hesitation in their play.

Its up to the coaching staff to monitor those things, and it was eyebrow-raising when Horton was back over the boards for a shift in the third period after mindlessly dropping Gill with a cross-check right in front of the referees.

Horton is the same guy who opened up the mindless penalty floodgates against the Carolina Hurricanes at home earlier this season, and his ice time in the third period shows the players and coaches dont seem to be learning from these troubling trends. Much like Seguins absence during the third period 5-on-3 advantage was underscored when the 19-year-old notched his fourth goal and 10th point later in the period.

So it all begs the question: What can be done about it?

Its difficult to see these Bruins suddenly shaking off the cobwebs and going on an extended winning streak. That means change is likely coming.

Last spring's ride through the NHL playoffs was magical, but far too many players arent playing with the same kind of fervent hunger this season. Winning inevitably brings comfort and can bump egos up a few levels, and that is sometimes when things like discipline, commitment and unselfishness take a little bit of a dip.

At this point, the only players who would appear to be safe are Seguin, Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Tim Thomas. General manager Peter Chiarelli is most definitely working the phones for a deal while his Cup-winning roster still has a sky-high value.

The number of trade calls and their intensity has elevated over the last week as the Bruins have plunged deeper into the post-Cup abyss, and it shouldnt shock anyone if a player or member of the coaching staff is no longer with the team when they suit up Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators.

One has to wonder if Bs president Cam Neely watched the Canadiens improve to 3-0-0 since firing assistant coach Perry Pearn, and wondered if a similar move would have the same kind of wake up effect for his hockey club.

Because the time has come for the Bs to turn it around by any means necessary before its truly too late.

Haggerty: Bruins would be foolish to deal away Carlo right now

Haggerty: Bruins would be foolish to deal away Carlo right now

There’s been smoke for weeks signaling trade talks between the Boston Bruins and the Colorado Avalanche, and things are reportedly heating up with the Bruins potentially reaching a tipping point with their subpar play on the ice. According to Bleacher Report columnist Adrian Dater, things may be progressing between the two teams because the Bruins are beginning to entertain the idea of trading away 20-year-old top pairing rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo.

Bruins Director of Player Personnel John Ferguson Jr. was expected to be out in Colorado scouting the Avalanche/Blackhawks game on Tuesday night, and perhaps getting a long look at players like Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Tyson Barrie among others.

The expectation is that 24-year-old Landeskog is in the middle of these trade discussions, and that he would be one of the players targeted by a Bruins team that could use more size on the wing, and more players that can put the puck in the net. Certainly Landeskog has done that in his brief NHL career after being a No. 2 overall pick, and has four 20-goal seasons on his resume prior to a disappointing, injury-plagued current season in Colorado.

The word around the league was that talks fizzled between the Bruins and Avs previously when Joe Sakic asked about the availability of the Colorado Springs native Carlo, and those discussions hit the same crunching roadblock that Winnipeg did in discussions with Boston about Jacob Trouba.

Perhaps that has changed in the last 24 hours after Cam Neely and Don Sweeney watched their Bruins completely no-show against the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the New York Islanders, on Monday afternoon. Now one would expect that Bruins management is getting desperate feeling that a third “Did Not Qualify” for the Stanley Cup playoffs could be in their future if they don’t make a bold, swift move to shake up their dazed hockey club.

But let’s not pull any punches here. The entire Bruins management group should be fired on the spot if they trade a 20-year-old, top pairing shutdown defenseman on an entry level contract like Carlo unless they are getting a bona fide superstar in return. Carlo, Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak should all be young, untouchable assets for a Bruins organization that is years away from legitimately holding a chance at a Stanley Cup.

Landeskog is not a bona fide superstar. He’s a good player that’s topped out at 26 goals and 65 points in the NHL, but he’s also the Captain on a horrendous, underachieving Avalanche team over the last three years.

If the price were right for Landeskog it would make all the sense in the world for the Bruins to deal him, but it’s a giant honking red flag that Colorado is looking to unload a player like him that’s signed for a reasonable $5.5 million price tag over the next four seasons. Teams don’t trade young players like that with term unless there’s more to the story, and that’s something the Bruins would do well to consider before giving up a player that could be a top-4 shutdown defenseman in Boston for the next 10 years.

Teams like the Bruins that are in reloading mode also shouldn’t be trading 20-year-old players for 24-year-old players that have already cashed in on their second contract. That’s exactly how the Bruins can get right back into salary cap trouble, and do it with a team that’s producing far less than the Peter Chiarelli groups that were at least still making the playoffs.  

Certainly the Bruins have other young D-men like Charlie McAvoy, Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon coming down the pipeline, but none of those defensemen are in the mold of a true shutdown D like the 6-foot-5 Carlo. With Zdeno Chara in the final few years of his career with the Black and Gold, the B’s are going to need Carlo to slide into that defensive stopper role given his size, strength, wing span and willingness to do the dirty work the D-zone.

That goes beyond the simple fact that rebuilding the back end with ALL of those young stud D-men is the best way to actually build the Bruins back up into a legitimate Eastern Conference power. 

It would be a giant mistake for the Bruins to ship away a player like Carlo with the hope Landeskog can put Boston over the hump for the playoffs this season, and perhaps ease some of the intense pressure currently weighing on Sweeney and Neely. That kind of desperate move smacks of doing it for all of the wrong reasons, and that’s one way to ensure that the Bruins will never escape the web of mediocrity that they’re currently caught in. 

Haggerty: From top to bottom, still no urgency from Bruins

Haggerty: From top to bottom, still no urgency from Bruins

BRIGHTON -- The Bruins pulled the worst of their no-shows on Monday afternoon in the 4-0 shutout loss to the Islanders.

It was a lethargic, mediocre start in the first period that devolved into the bottom dropping out on the Black and Gold when they allowed three unanswered goals in the second. Then, to top it all off, they showed zero urgency or push to make a comeback in the final period. 

It was “unacceptable” in the words of the Bruins players from beginning to end with careless, elementary mistakes in the defensive zone and absolutely zero sustained push in the offensive zone despite a deceiving 32 shots on net.

So, where was the urgency for a Bruins team that’s barely ahead of the Maple Leafs and Senators in the Atlantic Division despite having played six more games than each of those two?

Apparently the Bruins were feeling a little cocky after playing a solid five-game stretch where they’d gone 3-1-1 and taken down the Panthers, Blues and Flyers while elevating their level of play. Heart and soul team leader Patrice Bergeron admitted as much on Tuesday morning as the Bruins cancelled practice and turned their attention toward righting the ship Wednesday night in Detroit.

It was frankly a little stunning to hear Bergeron admit that his Bruins team thought they could win just by showing up on Monday afternoon, but that’s exactly what he copped to in something of an apologetic way.

Brad Marchand said Monday postgame that the Bruins “just weren’t ready [to play]” against the Islanders, and it sounded like his linemate agreed with him.

“It’s about realizing that you can’t take teams lightly, or take the foot off the gas pedal for a period, for a game, or whatever. It hurts us every time we do it, so we have to learn and realize that it just cannot happen. Teams are too good and the points are too valuable for us,” said Bergeron. “You never want to do that, but at the same time maybe it was something that happened because it was a terrible start, and to not respond when they scored the goals. Maybe that’s what happened yesterday.

“As much as you don’t want it to happen, maybe we thought it was going to be an easier game than it actually was against them.”

On the one hand, it’s somewhat shocking to hear that admission from a player that’s always played with full work ethic and an effort level that’s never been questioned. But Bergeron was also a minus-3 in the 4-0 loss and was every bit as guilty as everybody else up and down the roster for the team’s most pathetic loss of the season at a time when results are all that matter.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, though, because the lack of urgency on the bench is mirrored by the lack of urgency upstairs in the Bruins management office right now. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney told the Boston Globe last week that he’s considering a move with the head coach along with a number of other things to spark a team treading water, but it doesn’t feel like a major move is on the horizon with this Bruins team.

Trade talks are still in the formative, discussion stages as GMs like Joe Sakic and John Chayka are overvaluing their players looking for a king’s ransom for guys like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata. While Claude Julien should be under the microscope with a team sleepwalking its way through perhaps a third season in a row without the playoffs, it also doesn’t feel like the Bruins are going to pull the trigger on that move until the offseason at the earliest.

This humble hockey writer still insists that this playoff-caliber Bruins team plays at times like a one that needs a swift kick in the backside. Perhaps Julien isn’t up for it after 10 long, successful years of battles with the same core group.   

So, what is there to do then besides make cosmetic moves like shipping underperforming Anton Khudobin down to Providence, or rearrange the deck chairs on a third and fourth line that it’s difficult to tell apart on most days in Boston?

If the Bruins front office wants to truly get to the bottom of their team’s lack of urgency on the ice, perhaps a look in the mirror might be in order. Because that same lack of urgency is playing out with a management group that’s watching their team sink into the Atlantic Division muck right now and seems gun-shy on making a move that could rattle cages.

“Right now where we are in the standings, we’ve got a lot of games to play but we’re still in a playoff spot,” said Julien. “We try and play with the expectations that we have, and that’s to do the best with what we’ve got. We’ve got a lot of new faces and we’re trying to build with what we’ve got here moving forward.”

Certainly nobody is talking about trading away their blue chip prospects like Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy, but there are veteran players on Boston’s current roster that aren’t cut out for battling into the postseason with a young team. It’s plain to see when a middling hockey team can’t find the inspiration to go out and take care of business against a bad Islanders group on a sleepy Monday afternoon just a month after they made the same mistake against the same team on home ice.

The Bruins showed in a five-game stretch leading up to the Islanders debacle that they should be held to a higher standard - that of a team that should qualify for the postseason. But one question arose again and again watching the poorest of poor efforts play out on Monday afternoon: why should the Bruins players show any feet-in-the-fire urgency on the ice when it doesn’t feel like there’s much feet-in-the-fire urgency from upper management to improve the flailing hockey club?

Until that organizational dynamic changes, it’s difficult to see things getting much better, or worse, for a Bruins team that looks destined for the mediocre middle once again this season.