BOSTON -- Its a slow road back to consistency once a hockey team has started coloring outside the lines.
Thats clearly what has happened with a Bruins team thats lost their sixth game in the last 11 tries after many anointed them the best team in the NHL.
But there was welcomed news within another defeat for the Bruins since the calendar turned to February. The Bruins reverted back to defensive basics and tightened up the vital neutral zone coverage against a dangerous Pittsburgh Penguins team on Saturday afternoon, but couldnt place the finishing touches on their offensive chances in a 2-1 loss to the Pens at TD Garden.
First things first: the Bruins appear to have their defensive house back in order and thats no small task. In fact its the bedrock of the Black and Gold team. Aside from one power play allowed on a very iffy Rich Peverley slashing call and another even strength score for much-maligned Matt Cooke when Joe Corvo couldnt clear a puck out of the defensive zone, the Bruins were back into the defensive swing of things.
The Penguins only managed 28 shots and the truly juicy scoring chances over 60 minutes against Tim Thomas could be reeled off on one hand.
The defeat was actually the first time in six games the Bs stalwart defense, which had dropped to fourth in the NHL in goals against, had held their opponent to less than three goals scored in the game.
That, my friends, is Bruins hockey.
I thought it was definitely a step in the right direction from where weve been. I think the effort was definitely there. Maybe with a couple of bounces that game goes either way, said Shawn Thornton, who was clearly displeased earlier in the week and sounded off with a not good enough tirade about the teams effort after Thursday nights loss to the Hurricanes. I guess that was pretty much the gist of it right there. I think everyone for the most part showed up to play tonight. I think we battled, I think we definitely were back to our game plan fairly consistently.
I thought for most of the game we were playing our solid game. It could have gone either way, so well keep working if we keep giving efforts like that. Keep playing to our structure and then things will turn around for us. But it definitely was a step in the right direction today.
The offense hasnt quite returned to the building, but at least the Bruins managed to snap a scoreless streak that had reached well past 120 minutes of hockey.
Tyler Seguin was kicking himself for air-mailing a perfect one-timer opportunity high over the crossbar in the first period, and then missing on an opportunity one-on-one against Marc-Andre Fleury after hed dangled his way through the entire Pittsburgh defense.
Brad Marchand was thinking about two backhanded chances in tight against Fleury, including one in the closing seconds of the game, that he couldnt get past the brick wall from Pittsburgh. Joe Corvo was lamenting the perfect cross-ice pass from Seguin that he wasted during a second period power play when he couldnt lift the puck high enough from the right face-off circle.
There were at least a half-dozen offensive plays that the Bruins left on the ice while struggling to finish off scoring chances.
But there was also a very willing admission that the Bruins need to work a little harder to score goals, and havent used the greasy goal method to open up the offense. When 18 of the teams 29 shots on net come from the teams defensemen, that means two distinct things: the defensemen are doing a good job snaking shots through the traffic in front of the net and there isnt nearly enough traffic or bodies in front of the cage. "I think thats a big part of our game. I think maybe tonight it was a little bit too big," admitted Joe Corvo. "I think our forwards definitely have to look us off occasionally; we dont need the puck that often. Its just something that our offense works off of, are shots from the point."
Its been the same story for two games as both Cam Ward and now Fleury enjoyed relatively easy nights because they havent been forced into dealing with chaos in their crease. That lack of traffic and active bodies around the net needs to improve if the Bs are going to snap out of a rut thats rewarded them with just one goal on 75 shots over the last two games.
Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Rich Peverley accounted for zero shots on net, and Patrice Bergeron was held without a shot while keeping the Evgeni Malkin line in check for most of the night. The Bruins simply need more out of their big name forwards beyond Seguin and Marchand, who each had their share of shots and scoring chances when the final score was in the books.
Some of our lines Krejcis line didnt have a shot on net after two periods. Bergerons line only had six shots. Those other two lines just had one. We had about 18 shots coming from the point which, two things: We need to generate it and we need to generate it more from our forwards offensively, but at the same time, we were getting our shots through from our back end, said Julien.
Fourteen shots in two periods is a good job from our Ds to get those shots through. We have to do a better job in front of the net. If were getting shots through, where were the screens, the rebounds and that kind of stuff? We had to do a better job there as well. I think when you look at tonight offensively well have to work on that part of our game.
The good news: the foundation of the team appears to be back in place after an encouraging 60 minutes against a highly motivated, tough Penguins bunch.
The bad news: it might take a few games for the Bruins to bust out of their offensive funk as the pressure to score goals begins to mount on them. Scoring goals in the NHL is about confidence and looseness around the net combined with the willingness to stand in harms way and force pucks into the net. The Bruins had none of those things on Saturday afternoon against the Penguins despite their reputation as the highest scoring team in the NHL.
The Bs will try again on Sunday afternoon in Washington, but theyll have to realize that the confidence and swagger doesnt return to the offensive end until the courage and work ethic bits are firmly in place.