By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON -- The hockey season alarm clock is ringing uncontrollably, and its time for the Boston Bruins to lay off the snooze button.
The Bruins finished up a three-game homestand to begin defense of their Stanley Cup title, and played Bruins hockey in exactly one out of the three contests.
While the season-opening stumble against the Flyers was understandable given the banner-raising and emotionally draining nature of the evening, the Bruins have no alibi for a flaccid 1-0 loss to the not-ready-for-prime-time Colorado Avalanche Monday afternoon.
Everybody knows the Bruins have never been much of a matinee hockey team over the years, but there was genuine annoyance at the teams performance within the home dressing room postgame. That should be taken as a positive sign.
Its time for some guys to wake up and start playing, said one particularly frustrated Bs player after losing to the second-worst team in the NHL last season. The season has already started and were not playing like it yet.
There are plenty of areas to point at with distress, but none more than the lackadaisical play of top-line forwards Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton this season. Horton has managed exactly one shot and zero hits -- in three games thus far and the line looks fat and happy on Stanley Cup glory with a combined minus-6 to start the season.
Claude Julien hinted after the game that changes could be in store for that line. It wouldnt shock anyone if the Bruins coach opts for a little more skill and speed up on the top line given the promise Tyler Seguin has shown thus far this year.
But it goes beyond three simple forwards.
There was a general team-wide malaise in the first period against an Avs team that the Bruins clearly underestimated, and very little emotion until the final 20 minutes, when desperation finally set in.
By then it was too late.
Every team is going to be like the Avs were Monday. They want to compare themselves to us because we just won. Thats what teams do, said Johnny Boychuk. Theyre going to be fired up to play us. Every time we played a championship team before winning the Cup, we were always fired up.
They came in guns blazing and we need to be prepared for that. We need to match that or be better than them. Were not going to surprise anybody . . . thats for sure.
The Bruins set a sloppy tone in the first period when Zdeno Chara lost his composure after getting belted hard by Ryan OByrne with a clean hit, and went off to the box on the first shift of the game in a situation that soon became a 5-on-3 advantage for the Avs.
Colorado didnt score, but theyd successfully pushed the Bruins around in their backyard and goaded their captain into doing something unwise that was a harbinger of things to come.
The Bs coaching staff sensed a troubling kind of laxity in the dressing room prior to puck drop, and can now use it as ammunition on the practice ice as the Bruins head out for a two-game road trip against the Hurricanes and Blackhawks.
Both teams have improved from last year and theres little doubting theyll also have a bullseye placed squarely on the chest of the Bs players.
We got outworked by a team that was a lot hungrier than we were today," Julien said. "Right from the get go, as soon as they got that first power play it gave them some momentum and then they just never looked back. Throughout the game I felt our team was second on the puck. We were losing the races. Whenever we did go there and get in to battle, they certainly were a lot hungrier than we were.
I think its one of those games that you hope will give your players the opportunity to realize that what weve talked about since the beginning: Every team coming in here and playing us hard is going to happen. From the time they were in the dressing room, I could feel that there was maybe a little bit too much comfort. We have to understand that if were not going to get prepared the same way every night, were going to have more of those nights.
Maybe it took the reality of watching Semyon Varlamov make 30 saves in shutting down the Bruins offense -- and former Bs skaters Chuck Kobasew and Matt Hunwick walking out of the building victorious -- for the Bruins to finally pay some attention.
Perhaps now theyll avoid mind-numbing retaliation penalties like the one picked up by Chara on the first shift of the game, or address far too many times when forwards avoided getting in front of the net for screens and rebounds.
Interestingly enough, Julien felt the need to execute a preemptive strike on any questions about the players Stanley Cup celebration in Foxboro before the PatriotsJets game Sunday at Gillette Stadium. The Bs coach wanted to make sure people didnt assume the Bruins team overcelebrated their Cup introduction on the football field, but sources indicated to CSNNE.com that the players were on their way back to Boston in a police-escorted bus by halftime.
One thing Im going to clarify right now is yesterday at the Patriots game had absolutely nothing to do with us today. I think yesterday was great for the guys. It was great that the Patriots acknowledged us, said Julien. As professionals you certainly should be able to turn the page the next day and do your job. If theres somebody to blame, its ourselves and nobody else.
Nobody was asking the question because the Bruins are pulling the clichd act seen so many times in sports: The celebratory champs in need of a few reminders early in the season about how arduous the road was to get to the Cup mountaintop in the first place.
It's just the basics, obviously. It sounds clich, but that's what we have to do, said Patrice Bergeron. We have to go in front of the net and get some rebounds and put the puck there. Sometimes we're throwing pucks in the corner and stuff like that where we should just hold on to it and be strong on it.
The Bs are three games into their Stanley Cup reign and everybody understands how good they can be but its all for naught until they remember where they came from and how they got there in the first place.
Its a simple message, but it might have been lost somewhere between the closing seconds of Game 7 in Vancouver a humbling Monday afternoon loss to the Avalanche.