BRIGHTON, Mass. – The Boston Bruins have won two of their last three games while playing some very beatable teams with the likes of the Rangers, the Sabres and the Devils. But bad habits have officially crept into their collective game. The Bruins had a lackluster first period against the Rangers, but managed to blow them out once Henrik Lundqvist started experiencing some tough times between the pipes.
The Bruins simply weren’t good against the Sabres while allowing odd-man rushes amid shoddy puck management and some shaky defensive work. Then on Sunday they gut-checked their way to a win over New Jersey with a phenomenal individual effort from Anton Khudobin, and just enough offense to outweigh some miscues and careless plays in the other two zones.
The Bruins have allowed as many goals in their last two games (seven) as they had in their previous five games, which speaks to some slippage in their game that Bruce Cassidy acknowledges is in need of a correction.
“Slot coverage on plays from below the goal line, and communication between our two D’s and our low forward, generally our center man, [because] I think we’ve been a little late on who is going,” Cassidy said when asked what stood out in video review by the coaching staff. “It’s in our system that we don’t want to give too up too much time in that trapezoid area. Some of the other ones are puck management in the neutral zone where we need to just get wiser and more responsible. Definitely from goal-to-goal line our play needs to be better, and our wingers collapsing when we are losing that [coverage]. So our layers, I guess, have broken down at times more so than earlier in the year. I think the New York Ranger game, for a coach was awesome, but it was also problematic.
“We had breakdowns in the first period in our slot coverage, and [Anton Khudobin] made some great saves. They got masked because we had a terrific second period…then the players forget about the first period where things could have gone the other way. That’s when it bled into Saturday and Sunday. Now we won two of the three games and this is a results-oriented business, so we can’t forget that. But [the season] is 82 games and we’re trying to play the same way every night where we win the slot battle and defend hard. So that’s been addressed. I also find February is a tough time of year to sometimes get the players’ attention, depending on where you are. We’ve put ourselves in a good spot, so that’s the challenge for the coaching staff right now … to get their attention, and get back to detailed hockey.”
The big challenge for the B’s is to make sure this defensive slippage becomes just that, and doesn’t devolve into something worse with a five game road trip. The real danger is that repeated mistakes can turn into bad habits if they’re not nipped in the bud.