BOSTON -- Three days ago Peter Chiarelli openly wondered if malaise was too strong a word to describe what his team was currently battling in the wake of Stanley Cup greatness.
After watching the Bruins drop a 2-1 game to the hated Habs at TD Garden Thursday night, lowering them to 3-6 on the season and dead last in the Eastern Conference standings, Chiarelli might want to rethink his assessment.
The Bruins reached some of their modest objectives for the game by scoring first for the first time in seven games, and they actually scored a power-play goal despite not having any player with a Black and Gold sweater actually touch the puck.
But the Bruins once again looked like a team shooting pucks at a net front shrink-wrapped in plastic wrap, and fell asleep for an entire period after a nice start had bought them a rare lead in the first month of the season.
Its something that we are working on addressing daily, said goaltender Tim Thomas. We realize we need to start putting wins in the win column. Were going to try our best to make that happen.
So whats it like going from NHL penthouse last June to Eastern Conference outhouse after the first month of the new season? For Claude Julien, its akin to thumbing the pages of a Stephen King novel, or waking up in a cold sweat after an evening being chased around the ice by Dave Semenko.
I dont know if I imagined any of this stuff right now. Id probably get nightmares thinking about how were playing right now more than anything else, said the embattled Bs coach, who is running out of answers with a team alternating between white-knuckle frustration and nonchalance. Its more about our team right now. I dont care where we are in the standings. What I care about is how we play, and right now, were not playing at all to the level we should be.
Much could be made of a poorly executed Adam McQuaid pass in the third period that was intercepted and turned into the game-winning strike by Tomas Plekanec after McQuaid blocked the Montreal centers first shot.
But its difficult and patently unfair -- to pin the loss on a defenseman making his return to the lineup after missing two weeks with a headneck injury. The evenings defeat and the month-long funk arent about a couple of individual mistakes here or there that are killing the team.
Its about so many other things that speak to a team-wide plague affecting many different players and areas at once, and a team that badly needs some kind of rallying point to rally around during a downbeat season.
It was about a second period where the Bruins were outshot by an 18-9 margin and looked like a hockey club that wanted it a lot less than their fellow Les Habitants cellar dwellers in the Northeast Division. It's about a Bruins power play strategythat's again shooting blanks, and managed only a feeblethree shots on Carey Price in six different changes with the man advantage.
It was about a Bs team that continues to struggle finishing off offensive plays, and ranks 20th in the NHL averaging 2.22 goals per game.
Its about a fresh-legged Bruins team thats managed to lose two out of three games to opponents on the second night of back-to-back games, and is frittering away a distinct early season home-ice advantage by dropping five out of their first seven games on the TD Garden ice.
Its about a team that seems to have splintered a little bit without an experienced, steady voice of experience in Mark Recchi, who seemed able to consistently rally his teammates together during times of strife.
Its about a desperation play by Raphael Diaz diving across the Montreal crease to smother a Patrice Bergeron scoring attempt on a wide-open net and displaying the kind of lunatic-fringe urgency the Bruins havent had enough of in the first nine games.
There are players getting there on an occasional basis, but the Bruins arent good enough to win if they dont have nearly all their players skating with the same passion, purpose and energy.
Some of the Bruins assumed that the sight of the CH jerseys invading their home ice would snap them out of their seasonal funk.
But that didnt quite work, either, once the Bs entered the second-period slumber party and started sleeping the game away against an opponent that should have been wracked with fatigue.
The Bruins seem to be done denying theres a problem, and thats a good first step. Instead theyre intent on fixing thing that have broken down inside their dressing room, and finding a way to marry together their physical execution and mental focus into full 60-minute efforts.
Individually, David Krejci is a team-worst minus-5 on the season and looks completely lost between passive invisibility and forcing things way too much in a futile attempt to get the feel back into his playmaking game. Nathan Horton was once again an invisible man where he was a Game 7 hero just a few months ago.
So many Bs players look nothing like their Stanley Cup selves.
Right now its about finding answers and not getting frustrated or down on ourselves. Were character guys in here and we need to show it, said Bergeron, who was credited with the only goal of the game for the Bruins. We need to find a way. Were obviously not happy or satisfied.
Being in last place isnt something we would have expected at all. Weve done it ourselves. We cant put the blame on anything but ourselves, and now weve just got to do the work to get back and find our game. It starts in the room and talking about it. We need to find ways to be more prepared and realize who were up against. We cant say that its a long year. We need to turn this around if we dont want to get behind the eight ball.
Chiarelli said that one Stanley Cup-winning team told him their particular hangover lasted for an excruciating 20 games, but the Bruins might not have that kind of slack this season. Already the Bruins stand a full 12 points behind the Eastern Conference leaders in Pittsburgh, and the season hasnt even moved into the second month of play.
The bad news: things become extremely road-game heavy in the second half of the year.
Perhaps the reeling Bruins need to pull a move like Montreals decision to jettison assistant coach Perry Pearn that sparked a two-game winning streak this week. Or perhaps some of Chiarellis inquisitive trade phone calls to opposing GMs will yield some kind of skill forward that can help an offensively challenged bunch and finish off some of Tyler Seguins setups.
With each passing game that the Bruins dont get the results, the goals, and anything remotely resembling last years bunch of Cup winners, the odds of permanent alterations to the teams fabric become more of a certainty -- no matter how reluctant everyone is to mess with a proven winner.