WINNIPEG, MB The time has officially come to get concerned about the Boston Bruins.
Every team goes through a midseason malaise when fatigue creeps into a hockey clubs game, and the light of the NHL regular season tunnel is much too distant to seem attainable. But a team in normal seasonal doldrums can snap out of it when necessary and the Bruins have been attempting to right the ship for weeks without believably tangible success.
Injuries, uncharacteristic defensive breakdowns from reliable performers like Zdeno Chara and a couple of weak sauce efforts in the third period in back-to-back games have the Bruins battling some very uncharacteristic results. The latest out-of-character Bs performance had then folding in the third period like an aluminum VFW chair in a 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre.
For some reason we cant find a way to win two games in a row, said Krejci. I think it was a pretty good challenge for us in the third period and we felt good ourselves when we scored that second goal. But from there we sat back and we cant do that. We have to play to win.
We have to find a way to be the same Bruins that we used to be. It isnt that hard because we all know that its in this room. We just have to find it again.
The first step to overcoming the losses of Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley is within the elevated performances of the others still standing on the Bruins roster, and there werent enough players raising their level against the Jets. Tuukka Rask let in a pair of soft goals in the second period when a lockdown performance was needed.
Zdeno Chara is a minus-6 in his last three games while turning pucks over and moving very slowly and gingerly out on the ice a set of developments that could very well be fatigue or nagging health issues for the Bs Captain.
One shot on net apiece from Milan Lucic, Benoit Pouliot and Patrice Bergeron isnt good enough when all three need to be key offensive producers without Peverley and Horton. Pouliot needs to be much more highlight reel Pouliot than disappearing act Pouliot.
Its clear Claude Julien is going to ratchet up the conservative defensive game plan without two of his big offensive forwards, and is preaching adherence to the game plan and system.
That means the defensive cant afford breakdowns like the two Bryan Little rebound goals in the third period when the Bs blueliners couldnt clear the puck out of the zone. That also means the Bruins need elite goaltending from their puck-stopping tandem and they havent received that from Rask in more than a month.
Perhaps Peter Chiarelli will whip up a big deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning that will give Boston the defenseman (Pavel Kubina) and forward (Ryan Malone) they most desperately need. But until the cavalry arrives or good health returns, the Bruins are in strict suck it up mode.
We need to find a way to and we need to find answers. Its way too many ups and downs right now, said Patrice Bergeron. Its not even close to the effort that we need right now. Were working hard, but were not working smart. It hurts us so much when we do that. We get away from our game and we get away from our system, and thats when we get scored on.
One has to hope that part of the problem isnt straight out complacency. The Bruins know they wont be catching up to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference after they dropped both games to the Blueshirts over the last month. But the Bs also arent getting pushed by anybody in the Northeast Division with their closest competitor in Ottawafour points behind them with Boston holding a whopping four games in hand.
The Southeast Division doesnt appear to be any kind of threat in overtaking the Bruins for the No. 2 seed in the East either, so the Bs can just row merrily along on their schedule without much worry. The Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals are battling just to stay in the playoff picture without much hope of catching the B's. The Black and Gold will still end up near 100 points even if they go .500 the rest of the way on the regular season schedule, and thats a testament to how red-hot they were during the months of November and December.
The Bruins are comfortable despite the adversity set upon them, and thats partially a byproduct of the innate confidence that comes from winning a Stanley Cup. But theres also a deal danger that the Bruins will slip into a comfortable, mediocre trance for the rest of the regular season without anybody pushing hard at them.
That could leave them vulnerable during the playoffs if it takes them too long to rekindle the hungry Bruins team that leaves other hockey clubs cowering in their punch-filled path.
The only thing that can stir the Bruins from their February stupor is their own desire to be stronger and better than theyve been in more than a month. The Bruins still have a chance to turn their six-game road trip into a game-changer like last seasons undefeated voyage through Western Canada.
It all starts with playing Bruins hockey and getting the expected results, and that hasnt consistently been the casefor 17 games and counting.