It's Groundhog Day for Bruins

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It's Groundhog Day for Bruins

MONTREAL It certainly appears the Bruins are locked in the hockey version of Groundhog Day.

They keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Their will to win flags after the slightest hints of adversity early in the game. Their third-period bursts when trying to erase a deficit always seem to come up short.

That doesnt even take into account the brain-dead retaliation penalties they're being lulled into while playing catch-up a key element that helped again sink the Bruins in a 4-2 loss to the Canadiens at the Bell Centre Saturday night.

The loss capped a home-and-home sweep at hands of their arch-rivals and dropped the Bruins to 3-7. The start is the worst by a defending Stanley Cup champion since the Edmonton Oilers won in 1990, and then limped out to a 2-11-2 start to a 1990-91 season that eventually led them all the way to the Western Conference Finals.So there's hope for the B's, but a rough start has become a serious impediment to success in today's NHL.

I believe in this team, said captain Zdeno Chara. "I know that were in a deep hole, but if anybody can get out of it its this team."

Not if they keep following the exact same pattern, night after night after night.

Boston has stormed strongly out of the starting gate more often that not in the first 10 games, but theyve encountered serious difficulties finishing offensive plays.

Sometimes its the inability to hit a wide-open net or finish off a great pass, which was the case with Daniel Paille, Nathan Horton and Chris Kelly early Saturday night.

But more often its been about hitting posts rather than twine. Its what happened in the first period when both a Rich Peverley backhand and a Brad Marchand shot from the high slot dinged off the left post.

Once the Bs came up empty in both golden scoring chances, frustration crept in quickly.

The Bruins started getting out of their flow, both offensively and defensively, and got away from what makes them successful. Mix in a Brian Gionta power-play goal and a Lars Eller scorched strike that opened up when Horton stumbled on the ice, and the Bruins truly started leaking oil.

The frustration brought about the retaliation penalties, and thats when things truly went awry.

We want to be physical, but we have to be smart about it, said Chara. We can't be retaliating like that. Guys dont want to take bad penalties, but thats the way its happening right now. Im sure if you asked them, they would take those things back.

Its okay to play with emotions, but weve got to be smart about it.

For the second time this season the Bruins lost their composure in a game they were trailing that was still winnable. Andrew Ference was lulled into a roughing penalty in the second period while taking a quick punch at Habs defensemen P.K. Subban, who stirred things up with a bump behind the net. That led to a David Desharnais power-play goal and a 3-0 lead for the Habs.

But the Bruins werent done shooting themselves squarely in the foot. Eight minutes later Milan Lucic slashed at Subban when the Habs defensemen started messing with the Bs power forward, and once again the refs caught Bostons return volley.

The slash was less than three minutes after Lucic went upstairs with a wrist shot to put the Bruins on the scoreboard, so it wasn't exactly perfect timing.

Later, Horton put the Canadiens on the power play again when, after a battle in front of the net with Hal Gill, he cross-checked the behemoth blueliner.

We cant retaliate, said Brad Marchand. We have to be able to take it and hurt them on the scoreboard. We have to be better in that area. We know what we have to do to be better. Its just a matter of us finally going out and doing it.

What followed the penalties was the final trait that those around the Bruins have set their watches to this season: the mad, desperate scramble in the third period to make up for the shortcomings of the first 40 minutes.

The Bruins outshot the Habs 12-3 in the final 20 minutes, and even closed it to 3-2 in the final minute when Tyler Seguin stepped through traffic to snap home his team-leading fourth goal after they'd pulled Tuukka Rask for a sixth skater.

But it all turned into another futile third-period push for a Bruins team that isnt consistently playing hard, isnt playing well at all in front of Rask, and still has too many key players like Horton and David Krejci serving more as passengers than active participants.

The lack of urgency was underscored by this stat: Montreal defensemen Gill and Jaroslav Spacek blocked as many shots (12) by themselves as the Bruins did as a team.

Its frustrating to lose. We have some things we have to work on, said coach Claude Julien. When we all get on the same page and we start trusting each other thats when then things are going to get better.

Right now there is some hesitation in their play.

Its up to the coaching staff to monitor those things, and it was eyebrow-raising when Horton was back over the boards for a shift in the third period after mindlessly dropping Gill with a cross-check right in front of the referees.

Horton is the same guy who opened up the mindless penalty floodgates against the Carolina Hurricanes at home earlier this season, and his ice time in the third period shows the players and coaches dont seem to be learning from these troubling trends. Much like Seguins absence during the third period 5-on-3 advantage was underscored when the 19-year-old notched his fourth goal and 10th point later in the period.

So it all begs the question: What can be done about it?

Its difficult to see these Bruins suddenly shaking off the cobwebs and going on an extended winning streak. That means change is likely coming.

Last spring's ride through the NHL playoffs was magical, but far too many players arent playing with the same kind of fervent hunger this season. Winning inevitably brings comfort and can bump egos up a few levels, and that is sometimes when things like discipline, commitment and unselfishness take a little bit of a dip.

At this point, the only players who would appear to be safe are Seguin, Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Tim Thomas. General manager Peter Chiarelli is most definitely working the phones for a deal while his Cup-winning roster still has a sky-high value.

The number of trade calls and their intensity has elevated over the last week as the Bruins have plunged deeper into the post-Cup abyss, and it shouldnt shock anyone if a player or member of the coaching staff is no longer with the team when they suit up Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators.

One has to wonder if Bs president Cam Neely watched the Canadiens improve to 3-0-0 since firing assistant coach Perry Pearn, and wondered if a similar move would have the same kind of wake up effect for his hockey club.

Because the time has come for the Bs to turn it around by any means necessary before its truly too late.

Coyotes hire Craig Cunningham as scout

Coyotes hire Craig Cunningham as scout

The Coyotes have hired former player Craig Cunningham as a pro scout, keeping the 26-year-old in hockey after a cardiac episode ended his playing career this season. 

Drafted by the Bruins in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, Cunningham played 34 games for Boston over parts of two seasons before he was waived and claimed by Arizona. He totaled 19 games for the Coyotes, but served as captain of the Tucson Roadrunners, the team’s AHL affiliate. 

Cunningham was hospitalized after he collapsed during pregame warmups on Nov. 19. He was kept alive by continual CPR, but had his lower left leg amputated the next months due to an infection from the episode. 

Known as a high-character player who was popular with his teammates, Cunningham’s transition to scouting lets him further his career after a scary break. 

"I'm very excited to begin the next chapter of my life with the Coyotes," Cunningham said in a statement released by the team. "I'm very grateful to John Chayka, Dave Tippett, the Coyotes and Roadrunners organizations, and all of the great fans across Arizona for the incredible support I've received over the past year. I'm looking forward to helping the Coyotes and I can't wait to get started in my new role."

Said Chayka, the team’s general manager: ”We're thrilled to have Craig join our hockey operations department as a pro scout. Craig was a smart, hard-working player with an incredible passion for the game. We're confident that he will bring those same qualities to the Coyotes in his new role and that he will be an invaluable asset to our organization. We look forward to Craig helping us in several areas and are excited that he is staying with the club."
 

Morning Skate: Overreacting to the Oilers' window

Morning Skate: Overreacting to the Oilers' window

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading while really enjoying what the CW does season in and season out with the Flash.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Don Brennan says that the Senators fans not showing up for Game 6 is their way of sticking it to Sens owner Eugene Melnyk.

*The talk is turning to the next captain of the Buffalo Sabres, and what they can do to help open up communication up and down the roster.  

*A guy that wore a Habs toque on his twitter avatar writes a glowing, praise-filled article about the performance of PK Subban during these Stanley Cup playoffs. He’s undoubtedly been good, but he just might have been wearing his Montreal Canadiens footie pajamas when he wrote this one, and rattling his fist at Habs management all the while.

*Interesting piece by Jason Gregor about the “window to win” for the Edmonton Oilers, and an odd notion that the window will close when Connor McDavid has moved out of his entry level contract. I’d say that’s kind of ludicrous.

*The Colorado Avalanche coaching staff has been let go after last year’s dreadful season, and that’s too bad for a really good guy in former Providence College head coach Tim Army. I’m sure he won’t be out of work long.

*Colin White made his Stanley Cup playoff and NHL debut for the Ottawa Senators in Game 6, and helped push Ottawa to a Game 7. It will be interesting to watch the Massachusetts native and former Boston College standout develop with the Senators as White was one of the players that the Bruins skipped over to instead draft Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. The others, Mathew Barzal, Travis Konecny and Kyle Connor, are all either in the NHL or knocking on the door as well, and it’s going to be a challenging road for both of Boston’s forward prospects to live up the justification of the B’s drafting them first. Granted DeBrusk and Senyshyn are also both doing their thing for the P-Bruins as they push into the conference finals of the Calder Cup playoffs, and they’re both bright prospects in their own right. It’s going to take years to determine the rights and wrongs of that first round, but White getting into the lineup for the Senators is proof of just how high that organization is on him.

*Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan says that Sidney Crosby handled the targeted abuse well from the Senators in a Game 6 loss that will push to a Game 7 between the Penguins and the Senators.

*For something completely different: A great message from Brookline homey and former Sox GM wonder boy Theo Epstein in his commencement address to Yale University.