WASHINGTON, D.C. The All-Star break is arriving at just the right time for the road-weary Boston Bruins.
The Bs finished at 3-3-1 over seven wildly uneven, physically-taxinggames leading into this weekends hockey hiatus, and experienced some pretty uncharacteristic issues brought on through equal parts fatigue and seasonal ennui. There's a pretty clear divide between a smart, tough, engaged Bruins hockey team that has its legs, and a sloppy, mistake-prone team that begins hoping a hot goaltender will bail them out of their troubles.
Many of the very non-Bruins traits cropped up in Bostons 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night. The defeat combined with a Rangers win appropriately kept the Black and Gold out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference heading into the years traditional midpoint of the season. They simply didn't deserve to be tops after their lacking performance against an undermanned Caps unit playing for their lives.
Id rather leave with a good taste in my mouth than a bad taste, said Thornton, who will dwell for the next four dayson the anger that saw him on ice for two goals against in the Washington defeat. Its a lot more enjoyable when you go out winning.
After doing nothing but winning in November and December, the last few weeks of January havent exactly been a feel-good hockey movie.
Thats the kind of thing that can plague a hockey team like the Bs wrapping up a stretch of seven games in 11 days with six of those tilts set on the road. The skating legs cant possibly be there every night when the Bruins are playing that many games in such a short period of time.
The simple hockey fact of fatigue is a very real factor, and the specter of his words took some of the sting out of Claude Juliens words.
Well, maybe not all the sting.
Youre asking about our defense? said Julien rhetorically when asked about the Bs defensive breakdowns. There was none. We gave them their goals and theres no question about that.
Consider the Bruins roasted by their coach.
Julien then went on to seriously break down the problems hes pinpointed with his tiring hockey club. Most of it came down to indifferent puck possession and sloppy giveaways in the neutral zone that turned into offensive rushes for the Capitals.The players will find out exactly what needs to be improved when they show up for work next Monday coming out of the All-Star break, and fatigue will no longer be a viable excuse.
Something tells this hockey writerpractice isgoing to start with taking care of the puck. Perhaps it moves on to avoiding turnovers like the Johnny Boychuk neutral zone gaffe that led to one of Mathieu Perreaults three goals for Washington. Zdeno Chara and Joe Corvo had their own adventures as well, and that defensemen sloppiness seems to always be the telltale sign that the Bruins don't have their legs.
Sure the Bruins miss Andrew Ference during his suspension sentence, but they should be able to soldier on for just a couple of games without one of their regular six defensemen. Julien couldnt put his finger on the main cause of his teams two week malaise. It could be road-weariness, it could have beena letdown after a big day at the White House or it could have been a hockey club slightly distracted by the three-ring circus surrounding their politically charged goaltender.
It could be a number of things. Yesterdays day at the White House was pretty big for everybody, said Julien. It could be the All-Star break coming up. But I do think we played an okay first period. Then we started giving pucks away in the second period. We were battling back, but just the way we were giving up goals was a problem. The positive is that weve got five days to think about it and then come back refreshed, rejuvenated and playing with a lot more energy.
We were slow again tonight on the puck, and certainly a half-step behind for most of the night. Youre not going to win hockey games that way. The bottom line is that we have got to play better, and we know that. You have to make sure that you make it happen.
The Bruins enjoyed two months of dominant, strong-on-the-puck hockey that pushed their team up toward the top of the East. The Bruinsare obviouslystill reaping the benefits of that epic stretch, but they'll have to dig down deep during tough months of February and March filled with road trips.
Thedo-no-wrong Bruins of NovemberDecemberpetered out shortly after their draining loss to the Vancouver Canucks two weeks ago, and the Bruins coughed up25 goals over their last seven games for a 3.57 goals per game average.
Those kinds of numbersare unheard of in the Claude Julien era. Tim Thomas has allowed four goals or more four times during the month, and certainly appeared to be playing as if something was weighing him down leading into the break. Tuukka Rask surrendered as many goals in Tuesday nights loss as he had in his first three starts of the month, and had only given up four goals in a gameonce previously this season way backin October.The real Bruins are probably much closer to the NovemberDecember version than the knockoff group skating over the last two weeks, but they'll have to prove it in the second half.
Its a matter of being sharp and moving our feet, said Bergeron. I dont think the visit to the White House yesterday was an issue at all. We cant just be up and down like weve been lately or were not going to get the result we want. We knew that we had to match the desperation, and we didnt do it.
Washingtons loss featured many of the same listless qualities of recent Bs failures against the Hurricanes and Lightning, and betrayed a team that still needs to get away for a while. Get away from the hockey-crazy setting of Boston, get away from the Tim Thomas school of politics, and get away from handing out hat tricks to guys like Scott Hartnell and, last night, Mathieu Perreault.
The five days off will give the Bruins the time off and privacy theyve been yearning for since the season began, andhelp usher inthe recharging process for a team that will need every last reserve ounce of energy.
After all there is an 11-day road trip during the month of February and a full West Coast trip at the end of March that will test this teams road mettle. That amounts to a killer stretch run for a veteran hockey club capable of closing the door on an opponens.In some ways the Bruins will be at the mercy of the schedule-maker in the second half of the season, so the sandy beaches and umbrella drinks in their futures this weekend should be mandatory before getting back to the grind next week.