Slumping Bruins need outside scoring help to shake off extended skid

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Slumping Bruins need outside scoring help to shake off extended skid

BOSTON — The Bruins knew they would hit some adversity this season after the wins, and points, piled up fast and furiously in the opening months of the season.

Well, that extended midseason slump has definitely arrived, and it continued on Saturday afternoon with a 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers at TD Garden.

The loss to the Oilers was certainly disappointing as the secondary offense continues to sputter, and a flu-plagued Bruins group didn’t have the usual energy or competitiveness to muster a strong final kick once they fell behind in the second half of the game.

As of late, the Bruins have had enough juice to at least squeeze the “loser point” out of their myriad shootout and overtime losses, but they weren’t even close against an Edmonton group experiencing their own problems as of late.

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The Bruins have now won just four times in their last 15 games spanning the last month of play and a divisional lead that was once in the 15-point range is now down to just six points over a Toronto Maple Leafs team that’s been streaking (9-0-1 in their last 10 games) since they fired Mike Babcock.

The experienced B’s leadership group knows they are going through the winter doldrums right now and that the only way to get out of it is by working harder, believing in each other and paying much closer attention to detail.  

“I think we stick with the game plan and trust what we have in here. The season is long. We knew we were going to go through some rough patch at some point this year and seems like we are in it right now," said David Krejci. "We just need to keep working in practices and go back to the little details. Maybe a little bit. But we just need to believe in each other.

“We know we have a good team. We know we can come back in any game in the third period if we’re down. But we’re just in the middle of it now, so just keep your head up, keep working hard and things should turn the other way.”

Certainly, it’s going to take more than good, old-fashioned work ethic for things to get better for the Bruins. There is a problem with consistent offense from anything beyond the Perfection Line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, and even those three are far too reliant on the power play for their offensive production.

The Bruins are averaging 2.6 goals per game over the last 15 games — well below their season average of 3.3 goals per game — and that’s what it really comes down to for a team that’s lost its margin of error.

With all due respect to Krejci, the Bruins are learning that they’re going to come up short offensively if they keep relying on players like Par Lindholm, Brett Ritchie, David Backes, Karson Kuhlman or even Heinen or Charlie Coyle to chip in at a top-6 scoring level.

They need some scoring help outside the organization to truly make themselves into a more dangerous attack, and that comes down to Don Sweeney finding a way to assist a club that’s spinning its wheels offensively right now.

Last season, Marcus Johansson was a missing piece at the trade deadline who helped them get to the Stanley Cup Final, and the Bruins are going to need another hired gun like that to enhance them offensively again this season.

Maybe it’s Chris Kreider from the Rangers, or Tyler Toffoli from the L.A. Kings, or Kyle Palmieri from the New Jersey Devils, but it’s clear the B’s need them sooner rather than later — no matter who they end up being.

“We know the goals aren’t coming easily, so you know it’s gonna be, every goal matters. I think that’s in everybody’s head. It’s just the stretch we’re in right now,” said Bruce Cassidy. “You go through the opposite where nothing seems to faze you, and we went through that and came back every night it seemed in this building for a stretch. Right now, we’ve got to find a balance where we get the lead and play the right way, protect the lead. I think that’s how we play our best hockey.”

Key young veterans like Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and Sean Kuraly haven’t been consistently good for the Bruins this season, and they need to elevate their level of play if the Bruins hope to rip off the kind of winning streak that came easily to them in October and November.

The bottom line with the Bruins: They probably weren’t as good as they looked when they were blowing teams away and running out to a double-digit lead in the division back in the first two months of the season, and they certainly aren’t as bad they’ve been while losing to just about everybody over the last month of hockey either.

The Bruins still have a six-point lead on the division and they will be a playoff team regardless of how bad things get over the next few months, but their cushion is officially gone with the Maple Leafs and Lightning closing on them.

It’s time for the B’s to start playing with a little urgency and shake off the Christmas hangover that’s been dulling their overall game for the last month.

Haggerty: These blown leads are becoming a plague for the Bruins

Haggerty: These blown leads are becoming a plague for the Bruins

PITTSBURGH — If it happened once or twice, it could be shrugged off as a coincidence.

But the Bruins have blown three-goal leads three times this season, including two in the last week alone. That gives them one of the NHL's worst records when leading after two periods, with seven losses already this season.

To put Sunday's 4-3 loss at Pittsburgh in perspective, the Bruins went into the contest 200-1-6 since 2010-11 in games where they’d held a three-goal lead. 

It came down to a couple different things on Sunday, but you can start with their sloppy second period. They basically did nothing for the first 10 minutes coming out of the first intermission. That opened the door for everything that followed.

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First, Sidney Crosby made a couple of All-World plays to set up goals and get the Penguins back in the game. Then, it came down to the Bruins dooming themselves with mistakes, allowing two more goals without any offensive response. 

On the third goal, their top power-play unit stayed out on the ice far too long, and a gassed Brad Marchand couldn’t catch Jack Johnson as the trailer unloaded a shorthanded bomb. Then in the third, Evgeni Malkin stripped Charlie McAvoy behind the Boston net and set up Bryan Rust for the Penguins' game-winner.

To a man, the Bruins said it wasn’t about taking the foot off the gas pedal. Instead, they pointed to mistakes made while crediting Pittsburgh for pushing back.

“It’s typically how does it happen? We saw some poor defending and some poor goaltending in Philly, and tonight it was more of the same to be honest with you,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “Not so much on the goalie. They were good goals. But we get beat off the wall and the last one I can’t tell you what happened to be honest with you.

“I saw them bump their urgency up. The goals we are giving up against a good team…what is it a lack of focus? Do we lose our urgency? Because they are gifts a little bit. You can get outplayed by good teams, and you will in stretches. But these were gifts today.”

But it sure feels like the mind-numbing results fly in the face of their denials. Instead, something feels inherently wrong with a team that consistently plays down to the worst teams in the league, and seems to ease up once they build a comfortable lead. Those are the kinds of team traits that don’t go away as things get more challenging, and will certainly crop up when things are heightened. It’s also a shocking development for a Bruins team that’s been very good at closing out other teams over the years.

“We just need to bear down and you can’t just have a good effort and be satisfied with that, and then come back in the next game and just play for half of a game or whatever that was,” said Patrice Bergeron, who scored his 21st goal of the season and won 20-of-25 face-offs. “We need to take it upon ourselves. We all need to take responsibility and be accountable for how we’re able to play in this locker room.

“It’s one of those games where we’re playing a good team and they’re going to give you a push, but you can’t let that go by. It’s a 3-0 and you know there’s a lot of game left, so you need to play the right way and keep pushing in order to increase that lead.”

The good news for the Bruins is that they still have a half-season to figure things out. But it also makes one wonder if something has to change from the outside to improve things for a Bruins team that's almost the same as last season’s Stanley Cup finalist.

It remains to be seen what’s going to right the ship, or if it will ever get righted at all. But the list of problems is growing for a Bruins team that can’t live off its early-season success for much longer.

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Bruins don't expect David Backes to retire after demotion to AHL

Bruins don't expect David Backes to retire after demotion to AHL

David Backes was waived by the Boston Bruins late last week. The statement move to demote the veteran Bruin was part of two critical changes that the B's made to their team. The other was waiving fellow enforcer and physical forward Brett Ritchie.

After Backes' demotion, there was some speculation that the 14-year veteran may opt to retire instead of playing in the AHL for the Providence Bruins. But according to Bruins president Cam Neely, Backes hasn't indicated that he will do that.

"I don’t think he has a mindset of retirement," said Neely per Kevin Paul Dupont of The Boston Globe. "He’s a very proud man, and a professional. I still have the feeling he thinks he can help, so we’ll see where it goes from here."

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This isn't altogether surprising. Backes may be holding out hope that he'll get another chance to play moving forward if he can prove himself in the AHL. 

Backes turns 36 in May, but hockey players often have long careers. So, it's possible that Backes could find a role as a veteran depth piece for another team. It'll just be on a deal much cheaper than the five-year, $30 million deal he signed with the Bruins back in the 2016 offseason.

That said, it's worth noting that Backes has had concussion issues in recent seasons. So that could impact his decision-making moving forward.

In 16 games this season, Backes had just one goal and two assists for the Bruins. He'll take some time off before joining the Providence Bruins later this month.