By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON Its never a satisfactorynight in Bruins-land when the postgame conversation in the dressing roomturns to passengers or whether guys are going.
But, alas, that was their fate Thursday night, when they blew two one-goal leads and wound up losing thethird period, which normally has been theirwinning playgroundthis year. There were some close calls with pucks they couldn't quite get past Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and even a post struck, but the result was much more about bad energy than bad bounces.
From start to finish, I dont think theres much to say here except that we were totally flat tonight -- from the first player to the last, said coach Claude Julien. So its not about pointing to one or pointing to the other. We came out flat tonight and never seemed to find our game.
Even in the third period, you are coming in there tied and you got an opportunity, twenty minutes, to seal your fate. It just wasnt happening tonight.
Mark Recchi is usually the conscience of the team in moments of strife and struggle, and that was the case againin the wake of their first flat-line effort since getting embarrassed in the third period against Montreal at the Bell Centre.
Maybe it was the tired legs after playing their seventh game in a staggering 11-day span, which included some travel as well, or maybe it was simply underestimating a Buffalo team that appears to be playing out the string while testing Millers endurance for consecutive games.
But whatever it was, it wasnt a very Bruins-like effort on a night when the Canadiens were off and the Bs lost a chance to do some damage with one of the games in hand they've holding over the Habs.
We didnt have everybody going and thats what happens when you dont have everybody going, said Recchi. And when we got twenty people going, were just really tough to play against.
When we dont have everybody going on all cylinders and competing at the level we should, you know it just makes it hard for us. And I think we know that and weve been a lot better at it lately and more consistent and we just have to keep learning from these ones that when we do have these, that theres reasons why.
Who wasnt going in an effort Julien called flat, from the top to the bottom of the Boston roster? So glad you asked. Lets do a roll call:
A confidence-challenged Nathan Horton, who has only one goal in his last 18 games, continues to miss on golden chances and pass up Grade A scoring opportunities which would have most natural-born goal-scorers salivating. Horton was stuffed on a breakaway opportunity in the first period off a great lead pass from Marc Savard, and he turned into the passive version of himself shortly afterward for the rest of the night. Never was it more evident than during a first-period sequence when Savard flipped a pass to Michael Ryder in the slot, who then redirected the puck to Horton wide open in the left faceoff dot. But Horton decided to try and pass back to Ryder, and the play was broken up rather than giving the Bruins the scoring chance they had earned.
Its clear to Hortons teammates that he needs a slump-buster of some kind.
He battling with his confidence right now, and that stuff happens, said Recchi. What he really needs is one of those dirty ones. He needs a puck to go off his ass and go into the goal. Something like that, and then that old confidence will come back. Because hes getting the chances and its all there for him right now.
Credit Horton for standing in front of the net and creating the screen that allowed Dennis Seidenberg to score the games first goal, but it was also Hortons giveaway on a weak play that set up Cody McCormicks first goal for the Sabres.
Then theres David Krejci, who registered a single shot in 16-plus minutes of ice time and is saddled into a slump that has many wondering if hes simply playing through an injury of some kind. Krejci had the burst of skating speed on a couple of occasions that would make one think he's feeling okay, but hes also managed only 12 shots on net in 11 January games while putting up five assists and a minus-2.
Krejci has been the ultimate passenger over the last few weeks after looking like hed become Bostons No. 1 center in the opening weeks of the season, and he became a spectator on the third period when he was on the ice. His linemates have to be factored in, as well. Theres no doubt pairing Krejci with a still-learning Tyler Seguin has slowed some of his offensive progress, and Milan Lucic was another non-entity in his third game from an upper body injury on the other side of the Bs center.
But its clear Krejci isnt bringing much, and hes lagging far behind Patrice Bergeron and Savard in terms of making plays.
No hits from Lucic, who has talked a good game about returning to the physical roots that help unlock his game. But talk is cheap and the results werent there for Lucic and Krejci a pairing of players who are still trending downward despite their importance to the Bs success.
At least one frustrating goal surrendered by Tuukka Rask in an off night. He punched the ice after Nathan Gerbes game-tying goal in frustration a sign that he was mad at himself for committing so strongly toward a Tyler Myers shot on the right side of the ice before the Buffalo defensemen moved it cross-ice to Gerbe.
I think it was a struggle, said Rask. I think I obviously could have stopped all four of them. Not that I really had a chance. I played bad, not the greatest game, but it just happens, you know?
A rare off night for many of the young Bruins players that have been so good. Seguin hit the bench in the third period during one of his lesser performances during a better month of January. Brad Marchand had three giveaways as he didnt manage the puck well and really didnt contribute in any other area aside from decent penalty-killing. Steve Kampfer had a couple of difficult giveaways in his own zone, and was caught deep in the offensive end on a pinch during Buffalos final goal that put things out of reach.
Recchi has seen many young players come and go, and he knows the mental battles that must be waged before any youngster can achieve consistency in the NHL.
Its learning to be a pro, said Recchi. But its more of a mental challenge than it is anything. Most young players have played 70-something games in juniors, so maybe you get away with a little bit more. You just cant get away with it in the NHL. You should want to compete every night. Not wanting to let down your teammates -- thats the biggest thing. And you learn that . . . youre not going to feel good. First of all, youre going to feel good maybe 30 out of the 82 games, and the rest of them are mental games where you got to be mentally strong to battle through things. Do the right things for your teammates and if you do those then youll become a good pro and a consistent pro. Youll become more of a consistent player that people can rely on. The good news: The Bruins go right back to work on the road against Colorado and Los Angeles this weekend to get things back on the winning track.