Bruins sinking slowly in the West

Bruins sinking slowly in the West
January 10, 2014, 9:00 am
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The Bruins are finding out what the rest of their divisional opponents had already learned on their road trips through California: It’s a nearly impossible place to win hockey games this season.

It would have been a more interesting three-game stretch for the Black and Gold if they hadn’t lost one of their defensive pillars, Dennis Seidenberg, for the season just games before they departed for the West Coast. But they did, and they’ve been a far worse team since then.

They’ve now lost four of the six games since losing Seidenberg, have given up 21 goals in those six games (a 3.5-goals-allowed-per-game average that’s nearly double their previous number, which was best in the league all season), and have allowed eight power-play goals over that time. It’s been even worse against the cream of the Pacific Division crop: They’ve been outscored 9-4 in the two games against the Ducks and Kings, and have found themselves down by a 3-0 score in each game.

The effort and offense has been there in flashes, but the Bruins are making far too many defensive mistakes, both systems-wise and effort-wise. When they do commit a defensive gaffe, the California teams have been good enough to make sure the puck winds up in the back of the Boston net.

Claude Julien told reporters after the game it’s something that will need to be addressed and remedied prior to Saturday’s road-trip finale against a heavy, skilled, dominant San Jose Sharks club.

“It took us almost a period-and-a-half to get going here,” Julien said after Thursday night's 4-2 loss to the Kings. “We spotted them a 3-0 lead. Puck management, missed assignments . . . those kinds of things are going to end up costing you. We’re getting exposed in those areas right now [and] we’re going to [have to] get better. 

“We definitely could use more from our team, from the goaltender on out. We need big saves; we need our guys to manage the puck better. The mistakes that we’re making are very costly. Everybody needs to be a little better. We didn’t get much from our top two lines tonight, and you need that if you’re going to win some hockey games. They were pretty quiet.”

Pretty quiet, as in six combined shots on net for Jarome Iginla, Milan Lucic and David Krejci with a combined minus-6 rating. Lucic might have been feeling the after-effects of whatever bug kept him out of Tuesday’s lineup against the Ducks, but any game where he ends up with zero registered hits isn’t going to be a positive one for him.

There were a few positives beyond the silent top-six forwards, and a goalie (Tuukka Rask) who’s now been pulled three times in the last ten games while sporting a .856 save percentage since all the ligaments went kaput in Seidenberg’s right knee.

Rask was simply beaten on straight shots from Justin Williams and Alec Martinez to open the second period Thursday night, but looked like he was fighting the puck long before the game got out of hand.

Matt Fraser is likely headed on the next train to Providence when Loui Eriksson is ready to go -- which could be as soon as Saturday against the Sharks -- but he finally showed the quick release and awesome firepower in his one-time shot while putting a sweeping finish to a slick cross-ice dish from Carl Soderberg.

Adam McQuaid hasn’t been air-tight in the defensive zone, but he has fought in three straight games while trying to spark his hard-starting Bruins teammates. In this instance he pounced on Kings forward Kyle Clifford after Clifford lowered the boom on David Krejci with a heavy hit right in front of the Los Angeles bench.

Unfortunately, McQuaid has also been on the ice for seven of the last nine goals allowed by the Bruins and is having a difficult time shouldering added responsibilities with the loss of Seidenberg.

Justin Florek scored his first career NHL goal, and showed some Bruins-style spunk in the third period when he finally smacked Jarret Stoll in the chops on a faceoff after the Kings center had dominated the Bruins all night long.

He came ready to play on Thursday night against a Kings team that was starved for goals until running up against an uncharacteristically generous Bruins group. The Kings had gone almost a month since the last time they’d potted four goals in a game.

The bottom line is this: The Bruins are getting exposed as another Eastern Conference team with some flaws that will get exposed by a group of deep, heavy, skilled and tough Western Conference teams. This year the power is in the West, and the Bruins need to play close to their best in order to beat anybody in the Pacific Division, particularly on the road.

“We’ve got to be a better hockey club,” said Julien. “It’s as simple as that. It needs to come from inside the dressing room. Guys need to be committed to winning the next game. Guys certainly don’t want to go 0-for-3 on this road trip. We’re going to need everything from big saves, to timely scoring, to minimizing mistakes and to making sure we’re prepared to play from start to finish.”

The Bruins had been 8-2-2 against the Western Conference, and 5-1-0 against the Pacific Division prior to the start of their California road trip, but now those shining records against the West are starting to even out a little bit. They’ve got one last shot in San Jose to salvage a three-game roadie that’s listing perilously to a disaster, and it’s up to all the Bruins to dig deep and find a little more extra before they get labeled just another tomato can from the Eastern Conference that can’t hang in the West.