Prior to the game Saturday night against the Islanders, Claude Julien made a point of stating several times the Bruins were playing “OK” when prompted for a summation of his team’s first month of work.
The tone was dripping with a touch more acid afterward.
It’s simply time for the mealy-mouthed excuses to be over for a Bruins team that’s produced, perhaps, two top-shelf efforts on their ledger in the first month of the 2013-14 season.
The Black and Gold were supposed to be the rested, prepared team catching a winded Isles bunch on the second night of a back-to-back situation with travel. Instead, the B’s came out low on effort, focus and results in a listless 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders at a Nassau Coliseum full of Boston fans that had traveled four-plus hours to watch their favorite hockey team.
Julien was a pretty far sight from “OK” Saturday night on Long Island.
“They brought some momentum, and we brought none. It’s as simple as that,” said Julien to NESN on their postgame coverage, with no visible steam coming from his ears despite the scathing verbiage. “We didn’t play well enough. We need to be better than that. I think a lot of it is based on effort, and ours wasn’t good enough. We don’t compete hard enough, and you saw a team on the other side that was competing hard.”
Conventional wisdom had the Black and Gold serving as the more energetic team with the Islanders coming off a Friday night shootout win in Ottawa, but the energy theory was out the window after the first period saw them outshot by a 9-6 margin.
Then things devolved further in the second period.
In the same play, both Zdeno Chara and David Krejci saw the puck poked away from them, and Krejci’s carelessness set up the Isles’ first goal of the night. Thomas Vanek jumped a napping Krejci, and snapped a quick shot that bounced around Chad Johnson’s shoulder and neck before John Tavares batted the puck past Johnson. It was a stunning lack of concentration coming less than a week after a similarly careless display of D-zone puck possession by Jordan Caron led to a Jussi Jokinen game-winner for Pittsburgh.
Seven minutes later, Brad Marchand lost a defensive zone face-off after draw maestro Patrice Bergeron was booted out of the circle. That led to an Andrew MacDonald point shot that ricocheted off Reilly Smith’s stick on its way past Johnson.
The Bruins appeared to finally find their legs, and perhaps a little inspiration, in the second period when a Dougie Hamilton centering pass bounced off Frans Nielsen before sliding through the pads of goalie Kevin Poulin. The PP goal halved the lead for the Islanders, and appeared to be something Boston could finally rally around.
Then once again the lack of focus doomed the Bruins.
Forty-one seconds after the B’s power play strike, Dougie Hamilton was caught pinching in the offensive end with the Isles top forward line on the ice. That inattention to detail cost the Bruins in a big way.
Travis Hamonic kicked off an odd man rush with a nice outlet pass to Kyle Okposo, and the Isles power forward executed a great 2-on-1 pass to Vanek for his 30th career goal against the Bruins.
The puck mismanagement in the defensive zone and careless shifts following momentum-changing goals are so unlike Julien-coached teams that it was all too noticeable. They’re the actions of a comfortable hockey team that needs some kind of message sent.
One has to wonder if a struggling player such as Brad Marchand needs to hit the press box as a healthy scratch to wrangle everyone’s attention, and produce some Bruins hockey on the ice. Or if the B’s coaching staff will really shake up the forward lines, and try something different with such an imbalance in production through the first month of the season.
When the dust settled Saturday night, the Hamilton and Zdeno Chara pairing were on ice for two goals against and the combination of Vanek and John Tavares, who each had goals to power the Islanders. Chara looked like he was battling the fatigue associated with playing nearly 30 minutes Thursday night against the Ducks, and Hamilton was riding the highs and lows of a 20-year-old clearly still learning his craft.
That is a recipe for disappointment given Boston’s defensive game plan rolled out on a nightly basis.
The Bruins still had plenty of time to get back into the game in the third period, but they certainly didn’t deserve any good fortune given the minimal effort that was being expended. The Hockey Gods were more than happy to comply as Chara, Krejci and Ryan Spooner all missed wide off obscenely open looks at a partially open net from the slot.
There’s been plenty of talk about the schedule working against the Bruins in the first month: too much time off early, and now too much business with two stretches of three games in four days over the last two weeks.
Add this one to the list: there are also way too many excuses for a Bruins team that hasn’t been consistently giving enough to start this season. That needs to be replaced by hard work in practice, and painstaking results in the games.
With an 8-5 record and 16 points through 13 games, the Bruins are smack dab in the mediocre middle of the Atlantic Division. They're also in the bottom half of NHL team offenses with 2.69 goals per game.
Clearly, they’re far from terrible with the Krejci/Lucic/Iginla line carrying them offensively, and Tuukka Rask among the best NHL goalies this season while the B’s still get their bearings defensively.
But they’re also no better than “OK” 13 games into the new season. That’s plainly not good enough for a hockey team with a mandate for greatness, and the talented roster to back it up if things are snapped into proper focus.