ST PAUL, MN The Bruins should have plenty of things to ponder heading into Sunday afternoons highly anticipated tilt against the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center.
The Bs only visit hockey-crazed Minnesota once every two years to square off against the Wild, and this seasons tilt is serving as the NBC centerpiece game for Hockey Day in America.
Its an honor befitting the Stanley Cup champs with a roster littered with many of the NHLs most recognizable faces.
But the Bruins dont really care much about any of this headed into Sunday.
The Bs have gone 16 games (7-8-1) without winning consecutive games while essentially spinning their wheels for more than a month. The Wild will be just as, well, wild about a victory as losers of seven straight games coming off a Saturday afternoon 4-0 whitewashing in St. Louis.
Bostons frustration is obvious along a bench where the players have become accustomed to winning. The rankled feelings have even crept into the coaching staff where Claude Juliens answers are getting shorter by the day.
Ill be pleased if we can do the right things on Sunday, said Julien, who spoke for exactly 76 seconds to reporters after Fridays loss to the Jets before pulling the plug. We just keep working on trying to find our game and finding our rhythm. Its a challenge and we need to keep pushing through that. Its as simple as that. There is a lot in our game that has to be better.
It starts with the commitment to play the way we can, the work behind that goes behind that and the enthusiasm. Enthusiasm creates energy and we havent had that in a while. When we do have that in spurts during certain games it makes a big difference. We have to find that again and get geared up to put things in the right direction. Every team goes through doldrums. We go through it every year and were going through it now.
The Bs have been shut out three times since losing Nathan Horton to a mild concussion less than a month ago, and now theyre likely without Rich Peverley for the rest of the regular season to a sprained right MCL in his knee.
The Bruins have led the NHL in offense for nearly the entire season after overcoming their 10-game season-opening hangover, but they dropped out of the top spot after their loss in Winnipeg Friday night.
The Bs power play is 2-for-20 during the month of February and looks alarmingly close to the PP power outage Boston staged during last years playoffs.
The ever-reliable defensively Bruins bunch have allowed 3.8 goals per game in the last five contests, and Zdeno Chara is a shocking minus-6 over Bostons last three games.
The Bruins have been the leagues best third period team this year while outscoring their opponents by a 77-47 margin, but issued lifeless collapses in their last two games against the Canadiens and Jets.
Thats not our game, said David Krejci. Our game is to be the best third period team in the league. The last few games it hasnt happened, you know? Weve got to find a way to be the same Bruins as we used to be.
Its not hard. Its in us. Its in this dressing room, but somehow we have to find it again. We have to start showing that killer instinct in the third period again.
What do all of these statistics mean for the Black and Gold?
The Bruins havent looked like themselves over a month plus of fitful hockey. The Cup champs arent brandishing the same focused, aggressive brand of physical hockey thats unmistakable when theyre at their best.
Good teams snicker at words like complacency and comfort being tossed around, but facts are facts.
The Bruins are seven points behind a Rangers team that doesnt show any signs of slowing down after defeating the Bs twice over the last month, and the Northeast Division looks like a romp for Boston. The Ottawa Senators are closest to the Bs at four points behind, but the Bruins have a whopping four games in hand with 26 games to play.
With no push from within their division for the No. 2 seed in the East and the Southeast Division unable to produce a team worthy of catching up to the Bruins or Blueshirts, there is very little flickering Bostons flame during the dog days.
Leaders within the Boston dressing room like Chris Kelly, who finished practice and conducted interviews Saturday despite shattering his two front teeth in a head-first collision with the boards, know how important it is to keep piling up points amid the February doldrums.
I dont know if were locked into the No. 2 seed. I hope complacency isnt the case, but we certainly seem to be playing that way, said Kelly. I think Ottawa is four points back and, yeah, we have some games in hand. But that means nothing. We need to win those games.
Everybody is playing well right now. In the second half there are a lot of three point games and you need to be ready to get every point that you can.
The Bruins and Wild will each get a chance to show things are different on Sunday afternoon before a national audience, but it wont be easy.
The injuries are piling up with Tyler Seguin missing practice on Saturday, and Tuukka Rask is mired in a personal five-game losing streak while badly in need of a boost of confidence from the Bruins coaching staff.
Perhaps that boost will come from the Bruins going right back to Rask after a shaky performance in Friday nights loss to Winnipeg, but its about a lot more than goaltenders psyche at this point in the season.
The Bruins are concerned with only one thing Sunday: getting the two points against a reeling Minnesota bunch that could push them right back into the Bs way of doing things.