Sports

Bruins search for answers to their poor play

BUFFALO — The answers, at least for the moment, are eluding the Bruins. They are struggling and there’s no easy solution for a team plagued by inconsistency, poor play by its top lines, and a lack of scoring.

“I think right now, whatever should be simple is very hard,” coach Claude Julien said. “Even in our skate, very complicated. Guys [are] squeezing their sticks right now. We’re trying to do our best here to give them some easy solutions and regain that confidence that we once had that makes you a better team.

“No doubt it’s the biggest challenge we have right now.”

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The Bruins were far from perfect in a 2-0 win over Buffalo Sunday night, but did manage to steal a win and 2 points after picking up their play in the third period. But there was still quite a bit of inconsistency early in the game.

It seems like each night only one line is clicking and that hasn’t been the Bruin way in recent seasons. It’s something that’s puzzling to them, as they attempt to find a way out of the difficulties and challenge Montreal for first place in the Northeast.

Julien acknowledged it “does look like a lack of urgency. We don’t look like a team in charge.” That comes from too much thinking, the coach said. That takes away from their ability to relax, to use their speed and hands. It takes away from their consistency. It has put them in this slump.

“When we’re successful, when we’re at our best, we have all 20 guys going at the same time,” Milan Lucic said. “I think that, right now, is what we’re trying to create in our game, trying to create some excitement in our game as well. It’s up to us as players to do that.”

The team needs to establish a forecheck, Lucic said. It needs to make strong plays in the offensive zone, as it did on its lone goal in Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Philadelphia.

“That’s kind of been our strength the last three years, we’ve had that consistency in our lineup where we’ve had all four lines going and all six D going throughout the year,” Lucic said. “To have this, what’s going on right now, is a little odd. It’s been difficult to deal with.”

The Bruins have seemed to play to their competition of late, including poorly against the Flyers, one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference. As Lucic said, “What we had last year and the year before where we were so good is it didn’t matter who we were playing. We were focused on the way that we were going to play. I think the focus has to go back to that, worrying about us and our game.”

Sometimes, Lucic said, it all comes together in one moment. One game. One goal. One hit. That was the case last year, when the team started the season poorly. But the Bruins understand they need to turn things around with the regular season coming to a close.

“It’s not like we’re trying to play this way,” Lucic said. “We want to be better.”

First things, first

Matt Bartkowski got his first career point on the Bruins first goal Sunday night. He called it a “monkey off the back, I guess.” David Krejci scored the goal after Nathan Horton had gotten a couple of chances at rebounds, and the goal propelled the Bruins to the win. “He’s definitely more assertive, more confident since the last time, the other years that we’ve had him,” Julien said of Bartkowski. “He’s really developed into a pretty good defenseman.”

Vanek on the shelf

Thomas Vanek, who had a season-high 5 points against the Bruins Jan. 31 in a 7-4 Buffalo win, missed his third straight game Sunday with a muscle strain. Vanek skated in the morning, but was deemed not ready to play.

“Today went a lot better than yesterday, but still not quite where I would like it to be,” Vanek said. “Just have to be patient, which is obviously a tough thing to do in the position we’re at.”

Always a battle

Despite starting the day in 12th place — though just 3 points out of the eighth playoff spot — Buffalo already has started selling talent, beginning with Jordan Leopold. The defenseman was sent to the Blues Saturday.

But the Bruins haven’t played their best against the Sabres.

“We always seem to get up for Boston,” said Buffalo’s Tyler Myers.

“They’ve got a lot to play for,” Lucic said. “They’re going to come at us with their best.’’

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