BRIGHTON, Mass. – The Bruins aren’t even going to bother denying that frustration has crept into their game at this point.
Aside from David Pastrnak, the B’s offense is struggling to finish off plays from top to bottom in their lineup and it’s at the heart of their current three-game losing streak. The Bruins have scored two goals or less in seven of their last nine games and rank 25th in the NHL while averaging a paltry 2.3 goals per game.
So maintaining an air of confidence can be difficult for a group that hasn’t consistently produced results all season, but at the end of the day it’s also a talented group that ranked top-5 in the NHL last season in offense.
“When you see other teams get lucky bounces here and there – in Ottawa they’re shooting the puck wide and it goes off one of our guys and in, or in Minnesota the same thing happens – and we find ourselves not getting those bounces, then it starts to get frustrating when you’re getting good looks like we have been,” said Torey Krug, who has a goal and six points in 13 games during the month of November. “Every team goes through these little lulls and we’ll work our way out of it. Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later.
“It’s gonna come. Once one goes in then the floodgates will open. If you look up-front we have a lot of names that have done damage in the past, and it’s only a matter of time before things open up for us. You just trust it, and you work with it. Maybe we’re squeezing the sticks too hard and realizing we’re in tough spots where guys want to step up and be a hero. But if you play like that then you’re not letting your natural abilities take over, and that’s something where we have to relax a little bit and let our instincts do the work.”
Clearly those players up-front are easy to point out: Patrice Bergeron is on pace for 13 goals and 22 points, which is less than half of his usual production for a regular season during the prime of his NHL career. Bergeron has one goal in his last nine games, and had a score taken off the board vs. Calgary when it was challenged for goaltender interference. Ryan Spooner is on pace for 12 goals and 28 points on the season after finishing as a 50-point player while centering the third line last season, and Krug is pacing for four goals and 23 points that would be well below his career norms for offensive production. David Krejci is on pace for a lowly eight goals and just 47 points as one of Boston’s top playmaking forces, and Matt Beleskey is on track for eight goals and 20 points while the Bruins likely expected about double that going into this season.
So there are a fair number of players underachieving offensively for the Bruins right now, and that’s something plain to see for the coaching staff.
“We’re trying to find ways to help them get their confidence back and loosen up the group a little bit,” said Julien of his coaching staff’s aim at this point. “I think they’re squeezing their sticks, and people are frustrated because they’re not scoring. I think the players and the coaching are frustrated because we’re not scoring, so it doesn’t go unnoticed.
“Every team goes through it at some point where they have a hard time scoring. We’re trying to get out of it as quickly as we can, and we did some drills today that will hopefully help with that. We hope that we can help them as coaches, but they’ve also got to help themselves.”
One of the things Julien did in Friday night's loss to Calgary was start with playing with the forward groups, and he matched a red-hot Pastrnak with a struggling Krejci to bring some balance to the forward lines. It didn't work out against the Flames, but it may very well be something that the B's bench boss tries again in the future with David Backes then slotting into the right wing spot with Bergeron and Marchand.
Julien pointed to an inability to accurately get shots on net when the Bruins do get into good shooting areas on the ice, and a lack of second and third chance offense with a team that isn’t collectively getting to the front of the net enough of the time. All anybody needs to look at is Pastrnak, who leads the Bruins with 12 goals and has scored each of his last two lamp-lighters by grinding in front of the net and jumping on a loose puck as the right guy at the exact right time.
“If you don’t hit the net, you can’t score. If you’re shooting over the net all the time or missing, it’s a lost opportunity,” said Julien. “If you hit the net it’s a chance, and possibly a second chance as well. So it’s important for us to hit the net, but it’s also getting to those dirty areas and scoring a goal like [Pastrnak] did last night around the blue paint.
“Those are some of the areas where you hope our team can be better at, net-front presence. It’s okay to be there, but if you’re not taking the goalie’s eyes away from him then it makes it an easier save for him. There’s a lot we’re trying to cram in with our group to score some more goals. Once you get the results then you get the confidence, and it all starts coming again.”
Conversely when a team doesn’t get the results then the playmaking, or play-finishing, confidence simply shrivels up and goes away. That’s where the Bruins find themselves as their distinct lack of goal-scoring is beginning to overwhelm any of the good things that they are consistently doing on the ice right now.