By Joe Haggerty
TORONTO The Bruins better hope they can uncover some answers with eight of their last 11 regular season games scheduled at home in Boston.
The road has kicked their collective Black and Gold butts over the last 60 days, and left a hockey club in Toronto looking for answers and identity after another dispiriting loss.
Tim Thomas was ordinary again a pattern thats become all-too familiar since the NHL All-Star break and the Bruins couldnt do jack to generate offense against a desperate Maple Leafs bunch in a 5-2 loss at the Air Canada Centre.
Bostons Vezina Trophy favorite still barely holds the NHL lead in goals against average over Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne, but has become an incredibly average goaltender during the second half of the year. Hes 1-2-2 with a 3.00 goals against average and a .910 save percentage during five spread-out starts in March, and it doesnt appear the vast amounts of rest afforded Thomas are bringing his game back to vintage form.
When you lose 5-2 its pretty tough. Its not what we wanted, said Thomas. There was a lot of traffic and screened tips. I dont think it was my vision problem. It was the fact that there were screens.
I think some of the mistakes in the defensive end are because were trying too hard. Its a fine line between trying too hard and not trying. We know that there are some mistakes being made. Were working on correcting them.
The Bruins actually won the shots attempted battle (37-29) through the three periods of hockey, but fell victim to some crucial defensive breakdowns while plugging Andrew Ference back into the blueline equation. Thomas also didnt help when he simply flubbed a Mike Brown wrister from face-off circle perimeter, and allowed the floating puck right between his pads.
Thomas was pulled from the game after the score was 4-1 in the second period, and the Bs goalie had seen only 14 shots. Claude Julien said after the game he was trying to change the games momentum, but it was pretty clear Thomas wasnt having any of that reasoning.
The 37-year-old never removed his mask on the Bs bench and never so much as glanced Juliens way before telling Julien he wanted back into the game for an otherwise meaningless third period.
After the second period Claude and I had a talk, and tried to decide on the best thing to do, said Thomas. I wanted to go back in and get back to game action. I wanted to get used to it and battle through it. Thats basically what happened.
Behind Thomas was the suddenly combustible Tuukka Rask, who has morphed into milk crate mode and was out for the third period after flapping his wings while getting worked up over the one goal he allowed to make it a 5-1 game.
It appeared Rask was upset with a Dennis Seidenberg screen in front of him during the goal, and it was hypothesized on CBCs Hockey Night in Canada broadcast that perhaps he was taken out due to his histrionics.
Julien slammed down that notion after the game with the kind of impressive force that was nowhere to be found from his players.
That is ridiculous, said Julien. Those are just stories written by people who are just trying to get someone to read them.
The problem with the entire body of work Saturday against the Leafs: theres not much the Bruins can do to defuse many of the arguments that everyone is watching a team in trouble. Perhaps sensing his teams legs needed a rest, Julien called off Fridays practice in Toronto and went with an optional skate at the Air Canada Centre Saturday morning.
But that didnt stop his Bs skaters from simply going through the motions in their sixth loss in the last seven games a defeat that had little spirit, gumption or life in a Northeast Division battle that could have dealt the Maple Leafs a death blow to their playoff chances.
The Bruins hung in there during a first period amid several mistakes, and found themselves down by a 2-1 score. Tyler Seguin was freed up for a breakaway in the opening minutes of the second period, but was turned away on a backhand attempt by Toronto goalie James Reimer who outplayed Thomas and Rask by a country mile.
Seguin was Bostons best player while zipping all over the ice and firing a game-high five shots on net, but there werent nearly enough of his teammates that bothering to show up. Milan Lucic was caught way behind the play on Torontos first goal when he attempted to engage Keith Aulie in a fight rather than playing defense.
Ference had a rough night saddled with a minus-3 while skating with Adam McQuaid in a pairing that was abused pretty badly.
Or even worse was Tomas Kaberle simply watching from one of the best seats in the house as Mike Brown blew past him by the blue line before whistling the puck through Thomas pads.
McQuaid scored one of Bostons goals on one of their few good bounces, but he couldnt contain Luke Schenn on Torontos first goal and couldnt get out of Thomas line of vision as he tried to cover Darryl Boyce on Nazem Kadris first NHL goal to make it a 2-1 hockey game.
There was certainly a lack of collective fight from the Bruins aside from Nathan Hortons bloody brawl with Dion Phaneuf late in the third period.
But there was also an instance or two of players like McQuaid perhaps trying to do too much and getting right in the way. Or someone like Rask getting too keyed up about the goal, and showing Seidenberg up while shaking his head after a bad screen in front.
The Bruins need to get things together and mend some fences starting Sunday at Ristuccia Arena while theres still time.
Were over back-checking and almost trying to be too good, said Recchi. If you look at the last three games we have two guys in the crease and another guy standing right there. Theres too much back pressure and its hurting us. But well square it away when we get home and get time to practice.
The Northeast Division leaders had better hope that a few days of rest, recharging and good old-fashioned work can get them back on track because theyre certainly not good enough to beat anyone never mind playoff teams with the brand of hockey theyre slopping out on the ice.
We were a team looking for an easy win tonight. We wanted to get a win without putting the work in, said Julien. There are no easy wins this time of year. Defensively we were terrible and made a lot of mistakes. We certainly didnt respect our game plan and thats what happened.
I care about how were going to play from here on in. Were in a bit of a skid and a bit of a slide, and were a much better than what weve shown lately. Were going to have to start showing it. Its not going to happen by accident. So hopefully the guys have their work boots and their hard hats on because this is what were going to do from here on in until we find our game.
The Bruins have 11 games remaining in the regular season and three weeks to right the ship before the playoffs, or there could be some permanent changes in the offing that will make Saturday night feel like a parade.