MONTREAL Just when it seemed time to start discussing the Bruins as runaway Northeast Division winners and a potential top seed in the Eastern Conference, some old questions surfaced Tuesday after Bostons disappointing 4-1 loss to the Canadiens.
Tuukka Rask wasnt very good, the Boston defense was flat-footed, and the Bs power play once again looked pedestrian despite the presence of PP ace Tomas Kaberle.
Beyond that, the Bruins could have truly driven a stake through the Habs, all but ended the division race, and really pushed the Philadelphia Flyers for the top spot in the conference.
That they didn't -- or couldn't -- was disconcerting.
Because it wasn't so much about the loss itself as it was about how they played.
I dont think the Canadiens had to work very hard for those first two goals, said coach Claude Julien. The first one, the play comes out of the corner and a player is allowed to come right in and take a whack at the puck. We need to take care of that. The second one we leave a player behind us all by himself.
So its not like they really had to work hard for those first two goals in our mind and that really set us back. This is where its important to have good starts, and we didnt have a very good start giving up those first two goals. We cant say that were happy with the game we played tonight, and thats what were looking at.
And even beyond all that, there's the possibility of Zdeno Chara getting slapped with a multigame suspension for his hit on Max Pacioretty, which resulted in Pacioretty's scary-looking, head-first collision into the stanchion between the benches.
It seems virtually everything the Bruins did on this night fell flat.
Johnny Boychuk attempted to provide a physical spark early in the game with an open ice hit on P.K. Subban in the first period, as he did in last seasons playoffs. But he missed on the locomotive hit, and then lost a fight to Montreal enforcer Ryan White following the play.
Then there was the strange decision to start Tuukka Rask after Tim Thomas appeared to be shaking and favoring his left hand during the morning skate at the Bell Centre. Thomas never came into the game in relief despite an off night for Rask.
Julien insisted the decision to play Rask was based on the young goalies four-game winning streak and Thomas unimpressive career goals-against average against Montreal.
I think against this team Timmy has his worst goals-against average than any other team, and we felt it was an opportunity, after winning four in a row, for Tuukka to step up, said Julien. We made that decision and felt comfortable with it, so well live with it.
But why on earth would a team go away from one of its best players -- and a goaltender whos leading the NHL in goals against average and save percentage -- in one of the biggest games of the season if there wasnt some other underlying reason?
Rask wasnt terrible in the first period, but he wasnt great either.
It was the Bruins' defense that lost battles in front of the net that allowed Lars Eller to march toward the cage while popping in a Paul Mara rebound for the first goal. Then both Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley made weak plays in the defensive zone with the puck, and the napping Bruins defense practically invited Eller to sneak behind them for a score.
Rask had no chance at that one.
But the 23-year-old goalie got pretty good looks at goals by Brian Gionta and James Wisniewski in the second period, and did nothing to stop either.
The first period I can somehow understand giving up those goals, but those last two there shouldnt happen when you look at it as a goalie, said Rask. Its hockey. It happens sometimes. Youve got to shake it off and at least we won a period up here.
The surprising decision to start Rask, the missed chances early at some intimidating physicality, the defensive breakdowns and the wilting Bs power play all speak to issues that need to be addressed before they become problems.
In some ways, Tuesday's loss can be justified. The Bruins had taken 15 of the last 16 potential points, and were due for a stinker. The Canadiens are a bad matchup for the B's; they've won only 2 of the last 11 games against Montreal. Nor has the Bell Centre been a welcoming place for them. Their last two losses here -- Tuesday night's, and the Jan. 8 meltdown in which they blew a late 2-0 lead in a 3-2 overtime defeat -- were among their worst of the season. Plus, the Habs were fighting to stay alive in the division race, and were highly motivated after the literal beatdown they took in Boston last month.
But Julien put it best: "We cant say that were happy with the game we played tonight, and thats what were looking at."
There were too many troubling patterns, and trends, on this night.