By Joe Haggerty
UNIONDALE, N.Y. A couple of years ago injuries to Andrew Ference and Matt Hunwick sapped the Boston Bruins of much of their snap and transition in the middle of a promisingpostseason run.
All of the post-playoff dissections of that particularteam pointed to those injuries as theparamount reasons why the Bs dropped out of the playoffs in the Stanley Cup semi-finals in seven games against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Bruins are similarly gifted offensively again this season, but are once more being stymied by a couple of key absencesalong their blueline due to injury.
The Bruins punctuated a four-game losing streak with a brutally dismal and spiritually discouraging loss to the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Friday night a defeat that comes close to taking the cake, custard and pudding of bad losses this season.
It was the kind of dispiritingdefeatthat can make a hockeyteam search their collective soul for reasons why it happened in the first place.
I dont think our team has played as well since weve come back from out West. We had a good trip out there, but it seems like were a little out of synch, said Claude Julien, who has watched his team jump from a seven-game winning streak to a four-game losing stretch. Were not doing the little things well that we were doing before, and we need to find that part of our game again moving forward.
"There were some tough breaks in the game, but I think the team that really deserved the breaks won the game tonight.
For the second straight contestthe Bruins allowed their opponent more than 40 shots on net, and for the second straight game the normally defensively-sound Black and Gold members blew a two-goal lead. But this wasnt the Montreal Canadiens hell bent on revenge or overtime battles withworthyteams like the Penguins and Sabres battling for their postseason lives.'This was something to be ashamed of this late in the season.
It was a lowly Islanders team thats been playing much better hockey lately to be sure, but also a squadthats taken on ateam philosophy only Reg Dunlop or Oggie Oglethorpe would be proud of.Things fell apart in the third period against the Islanders in a span that saw Bostonlet in four unanswered goals, and featured a pair of pretty familiar-looking attributes in defeat:a defense folding with fatigue in the final 20 minutes and a defensemen unitexperiencing monumental difficulty breaking the puck out of their zone with consistency.
Its no coincidence thatfast-moving defenseman likeAndrew Ference and Steve Kampfer are out with injuries, and the Bruins appearvery much like the playoff team of two years ago that suddenly lost their mojo. With Ference and Kampfer on the shelf with injuries although it appears that Ference will rejoin the Bruins at practice on Sunday Matt Bartkowski has been thrust into the Bs lineup.
Its pretty clear that Bartkowski isnt ready for NHL prime time after several looks through this year, and that was hammered home when he didnt play a single shift after 4:42 of shaky play in the first period.That meant Zdeno Chara had to log 27 plus minutes of ice time, Tomas Kaberle was out for 24 minutes of ice time and both Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg were over 20 minutes for a blueline corps thats lost some of their offensive snap, puck-moving crackle and defensive pop.
A little bit of stability and a little bit of familiarity with guys playing together on the back end would certainly help, said Julien. The defensemen hasnt been at the top of its game as a whole, and maybe once we get some guys back thatll help stabilize things a little bit.
Weve been off our game. Weve been out of synch moving the puck around and making things happen. Plays just arent happening as easily as they were in the past.
There were some positives, of course. Chara snapped an 0-for-21 drought on the power play with a one-time hammer from the top of the right faceoff circle, Kaberle notched his second assist in 10 games with the Bs on Charas power play strike, and Adam McQuaid blocked a Herculean seven shots.
But poor Seidenberg was once again in the wrong place at the wrong time, and watched helplessly as a Jack Hillen blast headed wide of the net, of course nailed the Bs defenseman in the hip and bounced past a flailing Tim Thomas for the game-winning goal in the third period.Seidenberg has been solid for the Bruins, and hasn't deserved the kind of buzzard's luck that's followed him around with bounces this season.
I was standing in front ofTimmy and it hit me in the midsection. I dont know what else to do, said an exasperated Seidenberg. I was trying not to let any guys get in front of Timmy or box him out. I dont think that shot was even going to be on net, and it hits me and goes past Timmy. Its very frustrating.
Seidenberg was in the right place doing the right thing, but it seems that the Bruins defensemen corps cant catch the break they need. Perhaps it will come in the form of good health -- and D-man reserves like Kampfer and Ference moving closer to a team looking for all hands on deck amid a four-game losing streak.