BOSTON -- Its not every day that Claude Julien thinks his hockey club played "brain-dead" defense.
But thats exactly what the Bruins coach said about a hockey club that had gone into Thursday night ranked fourth in the NHL while allowing a paltry two goals per game, but they were scorched for seven goals in a 7-4 loss to the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden.
It was the most goals surrendered by a Julien-coached team since they lost an 8-2 decision to the Maple Leafs way back on March 6, 2008 when Phil Kessel was still wearing Black and Gold.
Some of the defensive breakdown is certainly attributable to a red-hot Thomas Vanek, who finished with a hat trick and five points that were instrumental in dismantling the Bs defense. Its no coincidence that Vanek has 28 career goals and 54 points in 46 games against Boston, and hes formed a dynamite combination with Jason Pominville while becoming the NHL's leading scorer.
But, yes, the Bruins were also an abominable mess defensively.
Zdeno Chara was on the ice for three of the goals scored by the Sabres, and finished with a minus-3 to go along with zero registered hits and three giveaways in a listless, invisible performance.
It was the first time Chara was a minus-3 since a March 11 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins last season when Evgeni Malkin and Co. toyed with the Bruins.
More than once the 6-foot-9 defenseman was caught up ice or away from the net and Vanek had the puck with ample time and space to make plays, and thats a recipe for Bs disaster.
Chara is the tone-setter for the rest of the Bruins in the defensive end, so its doesnt portend good things for the Black and Gold when teams are getting breakaways and unmolested shots at the net while No. 33 is out on the ice.
It started with the big defenseman getting pick-pocketed by Jason Pominville in the neutral zone that turned into a 2-on-1 for Vaneks first score less than three minutes into the second period.
The miscues happened far too often in Bostons first Northeast Division game of the season with 38 percent of their compressed regular schedule including divisional games.
Defensively I dont think I remember the last time we were this bad. The breakdowns and mistakes we made and the opportunities when you give Thomas Vanek those kinds of opportunities, hes going to make the most of it. I dont think we were extremely good on defense and thats what cost us the game.
I didnt expect this because it wasnt our type of game. When you look at the way we played -- the sloppiness of guys left by themselves around our net, the puck watching all over the place -- it was really disappointing; our guys defensively were just totally, totally out of it. We were told before the game to have our head on a swivel and that they really activate a lot in the offensive zone. Defensively, I guess you would say our guys were brain dead.
Julien singled out the goal scored by Tyler Ennis in the second period as the one that truly bugged him, and that was on the Bruins' captain along with Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand. Andrew Ference was draped all over Vanek in front of the net trying to strip the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder of the puck, but somehow Vanek managed to find a wide open Ennis at the right post as he was tumbling to the ice.
Chara was out of position after chasing Marcus Foligno far away from the front of the net, and didn't have enough time to recover on the bang-bang play. The tiny Buffalo forward had the teams third goal of the night, and Julien went apoplectic at the sight of a wide open Sabres forward attacking the net.
Chara similarly miscalculated on the go-ahead goal for Cody Hodgson and the Sabres in the third period when he was caught in-between on a 2-on-1 rather than cutting off the pass that eventually set up Hodgson's one-timer. Though Tuukka Rask was charged with six goals allowed in defeat, there were at least four Sabres strikes that the B's goaltender legitimately never had a chance to stop due to shoddy defense in front of him.
I almost broke my neck there, I think, with that lamp lighting up, said a wickedly sarcastic and embattled Rask after watching the defensive horror show in front of him. It was just a great defensive battle out there.
We gave up a lot of odd-man rushes, and then those two-on-ones, just a quick pass to the backdoor and one-timers in. Obviously, we have to get better on that. Too many times I think we just let those guys stand in front of the net by themselves. The puck watchingits not like us. We just got to fix that.
Chara wasnt the only defender that had a rough night, however.
Dougie Hamilton was shut out of the score sheet while being saddled with a minus-2, and absorbed a Drew Stafford elbow to the chops for his troubles that went uncalled as a penalty. Gregory Campbell and Lucic both finished a minus-2 as well as Julien attempted to mix-and-match forward lines after losing Shawn Thorntons services just a few minutes into the game.
But neither of those players is considered the best defensive player of their generation as Chara is commonly labeled in most NHL circles. So it was an eye-opening lack of defensive smarts from Chara that trickled down to the rest of the Bruins, and cant be repeated for a hockey club that relies on the bedrock of good fundamental defense and punishing competitiveness.