Bruins

Sloppy play catching up to the Bruins in their worst stretch of the season

Sloppy play catching up to the Bruins in their worst stretch of the season

BOSTON — There's no more denying that the Bruins' performance is slipping after a red-hot start to the season.

After three straight games where there was clearly too much looseness to their game, the Bruins went out and flatlined for the first 30 minutes against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night and couldn’t do enough late to escape a 3-2 shootout loss at TD Garden.

The Bruins were able to pick up a point in the loss and played much better in the second half of the game, but they can’t escape that they looked completely uninspired and unready to play in putting just six shots on net through the first half of the hockey game.

“We just got back to playing the game that we wanted to. Way too many sloppy plays and turning back rather than moving [the puck] forward,” said Patrice Bergeron of the first two periods. “When you do that everybody is kind of guessing on the ice and nobody is really on the same page. Then they take it to you. I think that’s what we saw in the first half of the game.

“A little bit better [in the second period] and much better in the third. You talk about playing for 60 [minutes] and if we did that tonight I would have liked our chances. It’s a lot of what we’re doing to ourselves to let teams into the game. It’s letting them get momentum and not being able to shut it down with a big shift.”

Part of it is certainly missing the injured Jake DeBrusk, Brett Ritchie and David Backes in the lineup and then watching Torey Krug go down as well in the late moments of the third period.

The Bruins didn’t have any massive breakdowns aside from an ill-advised Charlie McAvoy pinch down low with the fourth line on the ice that led to the Flyers' first goal, and special teams and goaltending weren’t really big factors.

Instead, it was about a Bruins team that’s now played two bad games in a row against inferior competition in Detroit and Philadelphia, and certainly doesn’t look as sharp now as they did during a torrid month of October.

“Poor. That’s about it. To sum it up, it was poor,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked about the start to the game where the Bruins were outshot 14-5 and outscored 2-0 on the scoreboard. “They [the Flyers] played the right way. Give them credit for playing a good game and managing the puck. Kept it simple and protected the front of their net when we did get through. They forechecked well, I thought, with good structure, so we had a hard time getting going. Why was it poor? I don’t think we had enough urgency, would be the simple answer. We weren’t breaking pucks out, got stuck below our goal line. We never got an opportunity to sort of put them on their heels, in any way, shape or form.

“So as a result they’re on their toes, they get a lead and we’re chasing the game. As a road team that’s come in, played a little bit lately, they all of a sudden find energy because of that. That’s my explanation of the start. We need to correct it in a hurry, but the good news is we did find our game eventually, and we can build off that.”

It’s been different things in each of the three losses, which speaks perhaps more to a general bit of malaise with the team rather than a specific issue. Against the Habs, Tuukka Rask had his worst game of the season allowing three soft goals, and that’s going to be impossible for almost any team to overcome. Against the Red Wings, the Bruins took a slew of offensive zone penalties while allowing a pair of power play goals and never ramped up their effort level against a bad team in a lifeless arena.

Against the Flyers, it was a Bruins team that looked as if it was missing a few key players to injuries while not getting enough from the guys that were healthy until it was too late. The loss to the Red Wings was the worst of the season, but the defeat at the hands of the Flyers felt avoidable and unnecessary given the situation.

Add it all up and it looks like a Bruins team which got off to a great start to the season has now put it in cruise control over the last week as the schedule starts to get a little bit more challenging.

“We’ve gotten away from what we do best and it’s cost us a bit,” said Charlie Coyle. “There are times in games when we’re doing the right things, but I think we’re getting away from it whether it’s early on, or at some point in the game. When you do that in this league, you’re going to get beat up. So we need to make sure we play the right way. When we do that, we put ourselves in great position and it’s hard for other teams.

“The work ethic has got to be there. We know the talent we have, but in this league you can’t ride solely on that. We need to make sure we bring it the right way. When we bring the work ethic, then the talent takes over after that.”

With the first three-game losing streak of the season, there will certainly be questions about the Stanley Cup Final hangover finally showing its face, or if the Bruins are simply going through a market correction after romping through the first month of the season.

The good news is we’ll know soon if this is a temporary bump or more of a prolonged swoon, based on their upcoming opponents — the Panthers and Maple Leafs. Both teams are within a handful of points of the first place B’s in the Atlantic Division and are shaping up to be among Boston's toughest competition for playoff spots.

The heightened intensity level should be enough to snap the Bruins out of their temporary three-game funk. If not, then a week from now we’ll all know that the B’s are facing a much bigger problem than anybody could have imagined after an October where seemingly nothing went wrong for a Bruins group facing their first adversity of the year.

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Complacency and comfort are real concerns for a Bruins team running away with division

Complacency and comfort are real concerns for a Bruins team running away with division

BOSTON – The good news for the Bruins is that they hold a 15-point lead over every team in the Atlantic Division and it isn’t even Christmas.

The relatively bad news for the Bruins is also that they hold a 15-point lead over every team in the Atlantic Division and it isn’t even Christmas.

Clearly, the Bruins would rather be up 15 points than behind 15 points, but with every situation there comes challenges.

It certainly seems as if some disarming comfort and an old-fashioned lack of urgency have crept into the B’s game as they again stumbled through the first 40 minutes Thursday night before a patented third-period comeback earned them a point in an eventual overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden.

The game against Chicago was particularly damning because it uncovered a real lack of focus in the overall game. The Bruins allowed a pair of special teams goals in the final two minutes of the first period and were caught napping again 17 seconds into the third to dig a 3-0 hole.

One can dissect the individual problems, whether it was a costly turnover from Charlie McAvoy on the power play that led to Chicago’s shorthanded goal, or the ensuing penalty from David Pastrnak that allowed the Blackhawks to double up with a PP goal 37 seconds later. Or Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug flat out getting caught flat-footed on Alex DeBrincat’s speed rush in the opening shift of the third that finally seemed to act like smelling salts to the Black and Gold.

It says something about the character and the overall talent of the team that they can continuously overcome deficits in the third period. There’s no denying they are the best team in the NHL in the final 20 minutes of the game.

They are outscoring opponents by a 2-1 margin (42-21) in the third period and have a whopping plus-21 goal differential when it comes to winning time.

But the lack of urgency out of the gate game after game of late sure looks like complacency and certainly looks like a team that knows they are far out ahead in the standings.

“Complacency? I would say no. Lack of urgency some nights? I would say yes. We’re not pushing as hard as we need to to get to our level. Is that because of where we are, is that because of last year, is that because we feel like we’re a good enough team that we can flip a switch? Probably bits and pieces of all those things, I’m not going to deny it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Our job is to make sure we don’t get complacent. I don’t think we have been, to be honest with you. I think it would show in our record if we were.

"But, lack of urgency from period to period, absolutely. We’re going to continue to address it, but to get to your level 82 times a night for 60 games, if you feel you’re better than – you’re going to be in that second season, it is a challenge for a coach, and it’s a challenge for the players, but we’ll need [the urgency]."

The danger, of course, is that the Bruins turn into this season's version of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where they race off to such a commanding lead that they never truly face character-building adversity in the regular season. The B’s have enough experience and talent to overcome that once they are in a playoff series, which would make them demonstrably different than a Lightning team that folded like a cheap chair in four games against Columbus last spring.

But there is still very much a danger now that the Bruins can float through the rest of this regular season where they only need to win half (27) of their remaining 53 games to still get to 100 points based on their bounding start. Essentially the Bruins could play .500 hockey the rest of the way and still breeze right into the playoffs, and win the division as well.

It's difficult to stay sharp under those circumstances and it will be equally difficult to match the intensity in the postseason facing a team that will have been scratching and clawing in order to get there. Torey Krug maintained he didn’t know what kind of lead the Bruins had in the Atlantic Division standings, and that’s probably the best thing for the Bruins to do right now.

“I would say normally yes, but it doesn’t feel like we’re in that position right now,” said Krug, when asked if the Bruins need to guard against complacency. “I don’t why that is. It’s so early in the season and we’re chasing perfection, and there’s a high standard here. So maybe that’s where it comes from,  but it doesn’t feel like we’re that far ahead [of everybody else].

“We’re missing a lot of guys too, so you always feel like going into these games that you need to bring your ‘A’ game because of who we’re missing. As a veteran guy, you feel like you need to take more onto your shoulders. I’m not even sure if guys know [their lead in the Atlantic] and it’s probably a good idea to just stay in the moment.”

Clearly, Krug walks it the way he talks as it was the puck-moving D-man that notched the tying goal Thursday in the final minutes to cap off the three-goal comeback in the third period.

The one silver lining that could stoke the B’s hunger and keep them at least partially invested in the game-to-game gauntlet the next five months: The top seed in the Eastern Conference is still wide open in competition with the Capitals.

Home-ice advantage all through the playoffs is certainly something to play for and could be a difference in a conference final showdown with Washington, and that should be a carrot directly in front of the Bruins that the coaching staff can sell them on.

But at no point does it seem as if the Bruins are going to have to fight for their lives for the rest of the season and they are already close to finishing the season series with the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, rivals that are chasing them in the standings.

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Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (lower body) out Saturday against Colorado Avalanche

Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (lower body) out Saturday against Colorado Avalanche

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins will continue to be without Patrice Bergeron this weekend, but the B’s top center is making progress with his lower-body injury.

Bergeron, 34, took a positive step by participating in practice with his teammates for the first time since being injured on Friday morning at Warrior Ice Arena, though he was wearing a no-contact sweater and didn’t really mix in with his normal linemates for drills. Bruce Cassidy confirmed following practice that Bergeron won’t play Saturday night against the Colorado Avalanche, but remained hopeful he may return early next week barring any setbacks.

“[He’s wearing] a red sweater; that’s good. He participated in some line rushes, but it wasn’t a heavy contact practice,” said Cassidy. “He won’t play [against Colorado], but once you have the red sweater on you’re that much closer. Monday [against Ottawa] now becomes more of a target date for us if there are no setbacks.”

It will mark the seventh straight game that Bergeron has missed with his lower-body injury and the ninth game of the past 11 games that he’s missed due to the nagging injury. The amazing thing: The Bruins have gone 6-0-2 thus far without Bergeron and have done a pretty good job of getting by having David Krejci, Charlie Coyle and others fill into his many different roles on the ice. 

Brett Ritchie skated in line drills and appears close to a return, but it remains to be seen which forward he might replace in the lineup. 

Here are the projected line combos and defense pairings based on practice Friday ahead of the big non-conference tilt Saturday against eth talented, explosive Avs:

Marchand-Coyle-Heinen

DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak

Nordstrom-Kuraly-Wagner

Bjork-Lindholm-Ritchie

 

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Moore-Grzelcyk

 

Rask

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