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Bruins are far wide of the goal

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  December 21, 2010 02:16 PM

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Sound the siren behind the Bruins net, not because the opponent has slipped the puck past Tim Thomas -- as the Anaheim Ducks did thrice last night -- but to sound the alarm on the direction of this much-anticipated season.

The Bruins like to play the song "Zombie Nation" to celebrate goals, but they're not supposed to look like zombies on the ice.

After last night's 3-0 loss to the Orange County ice outfit, the Bruins are 6-6-3 in their last 15 games and planted in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference with 50 games to play. They are typically Bruins, uninspired and mired in mediocrity. They have 38 points at 17-11-4. At this point last season they were 16-10-6, 38 points. To quote Michael Felger, "What's the diff?"

It wasn't supposed to be this way for the Bruins, not this season. No way. This was their season to seize the sports spotlight here and challenge for Lord Stanley's Cup.

Last season's 3-0, uh-oh, collapse at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers left a bad taste in everyone's mouth, but it also left us wanting more ... more hockey, more Bruins. It was like when the Red Sox lost Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series, you wanted the next season to start the next day.

Tack on the additions of Nathan Horton and ostensible wunderkind Tyler Seguin and the elevation of Cam Neely to El Presidente and first faceoff couldn't come fast enough. But that positive energy around the franchise has dissipated, both on and off the ice.

Much like last night, the Bruins are failing to capitalize. In this case it's on the goodwill and genuine interest they generated from the general Boston sports fan last spring. The diehards will always turn out on Causeway Street. If the Bruins haven't turned them off by now they never will. But sports is about competition, and the Bruins right now are still stuck at the little kids table, eating off paper plates, while the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics are using the fine china.

Mediocrity is going to get you tuned out here in the Hub of Hardware. The Patriots are on an inexorable march to Super Bowl XLV. The Celtics are riding a 13-game winning streak despite a plague of injuries. The Red Sox are burning through bucks like Antoine Walker, having shelled out more than $300 million to acquire Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Bobby Jenks and to erase the memory of a "bridge year" gone bad.

And the Bruins ... are skating in circles.

This is where the Spoked Believers, who voiced their disapproval with the product last night, get angry. They don't like outsiders criticizing their team. It's like your little brother. It's okay when you make fun of him, but if anyone outside your family does then it's go time.

But demanding more from the Bruins isn't the same as belittling them. Everyone around here wants them to be good, to be great. You want them to knock off the Flyers and the Penguins and the Capitals with great goaltending and timely goals, as they have this season.

At its core this is a hockey town and it deserves a team that reciprocates that passion for the sport, not the rudderless bunch currently at Claude Julien's command.

Whether the coach changes or not the culture has to on Causeway Street. Julien has done a good job behind the Boston bench, even though his defensive-minded tactics can be maddening. They've won two more playoff series in three-plus seasons with Julien than they did in the prior eight without him.

I'll leave it to much sharper hockey minds to opine and decide Julien's fate, although his comments after last night's game might be sealing it.

"Our compete level needed to be better," he told reporters. "That started with our forecheck, a sustained forecheck. We didn’t have a sustained forecheck.

“At the same time, whatever scoring opportunities we had, we had to show more hunger in the finishing department. ...We’ve got to be a lot better than that. Right now, we’ve got to find that intensity and that emotion that is needed to compete the way we want to compete."

Careful, Claude, don't write your own epitaph.

What's disappointing is that the Bruins are clearly a more talented team than they were at this point last year. They have a plus-21 goal differential, which trails only the Flyers and Penguins in the Eastern Conference and is the fourth best in the NHL. By comparison the Bruins were a plus-six at the end of last season.

Last season every goal felt like turning coal into diamonds; they finished last in goals per game (2.39). Goals are still not plentiful, but the Spoked-Bs are a respectable 13th out of 30 teams at 2.78 goals per game. A healthy Milan Lucic really does look a bit like Neely Lite, and before he became the invisible man, Horton looked like just the front-line sniper the Bruins needed. If Marc Savard can bounce back from his concussion-related symptoms he has scorers to be on the other end of his pretty passes.

Defensively, the Bruins have displayed their usual penuriousness, leading the league in goals against. They're allowing fewer goals per game (2.03 to 2.33) than last season, in large part thanks to the spectacular play of Thomas, who has been anything but Tiny Tim in net.

Add it all up and you should have a better team. But you don't, and as Duane Charles Parcells once said, "You are what your record says you are."

After Thursday night's tilt with the Thrashers at TD Garden, the Bruins will spend seven of their next eight games away from the Garden. Perhaps that is the opportunity for them to find themselves.

They better find something because they can't afford to let another season slip into the unremarkable, especially not this one.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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