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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