OTTAWA — Even a two-game losing streak, as modest as it sounds, can wither a veteran club’s confidence.
For the first 38 minutes of Thursday night’s game against the Senators at Scotiabank Place, the Bruins played tentative hockey. They gave up numerous odd-man rushes. They didn’t defend well in the neutral zone. They settled for regroups when they should have attacked. The Senators grabbed the swagger the Bruins usually claim for themselves.
But as the game progressed, the Bruins got stronger.
A Daniel Paille strike with 1:22 remaining in the second tied the score at 1. With 64 seconds remaining in regulation, Dennis Seidenberg’s point shot sailed through traffic and beat Robin Lehner. That was enough to give the Bruins a 2-1 win to halt their two-game slide. It was the Bruins’ 11th straight win in Ottawa.
“I think we were working hard,” said coach Claude Julien. “I think our will and desire were there. When you’re not playing with a ton of confidence as far as execution, you make things hard on yourself. There were times we were bringing the puck in wide. We should have been shooting at the net. We tried to force plays again. Nothing came out of it.”
Even outside of their two-game losing streak, the Bruins have not been playing with their signature efficiency. They’ve slipped into bad habits, which is why they’ve gagged away four third-period leads this month.
For 40 minutes on Thursday night, crispness eluded them once more. They had to lean heavily on Anton Khudobin, who submitted a 27-save gem. Khudobin earned the win by making timely saves. In the closing seconds of the first period, he turned back Kyle Turris and Jakob Silfverberg. At the end of the second, Khudobin stoned Silfverberg with a quick blocker stop.
But on the winning goal, every player did his job. Patrice Bergeron won an offensive-zone faceoff against Zack Smith, pulled the puck back to Zdeno Chara at the point, then went straight for the net.
As Bergeron set a screen on Lehner, Seidenberg opened himself up for a one-timer against the right wall. Chara set up Seidenberg, and the defenseman let his slapper fly, even though he wasn’t sure a shooting lane was available. Once he realized the puck was behind him, Lehner was literally hopping mad.
“Somehow, I think he didn’t see it, really,” Seidenberg said. “He just went down in the butterfly and it went over his pad.”
Seidenberg wouldn’t have been in position to rap home the winning goal had the team’s grinders not punched through in the second. Paille, Gregory Campbell, and Shawn Thornton are the club’s fourth-line plumbers.
But on Thursday night, for the first time in his Bruins career, Rich Peverley was a healthy scratch. Peverley has scored only four goals and five assists in 28 games, and has just one goal in his last 10 games.
The first sign came in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to Winnipeg. Peverley started the game on the No. 2 power-play unit. But later in the game, he had those shifts taken away.
In the same game, Ryan Spooner delivered a solid effort in his second NHL appearance. Peverley’s struggles, combined with Spooner’s sharpness, prompted Julien to put the third-line forward in suit and tie against the Senators.
“I really felt that [Spooner] played well enough that he deserved another look,” Julien said. “I think it’s obvious to everybody that Rich is struggling a little bit. Sometimes you’ve got to make those kinds of decisions, hoping that maybe it gives him the jolt he needs to get himself going. We need Rich Peverley. He’s a good player. But he hasn’t been able to find his game so far this year to what he can be. As a coach, you make those kinds of decisions, hoping in the end that it’s the right one to help the player and to help the team.”
Instead of centering Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton like he did against the Jets, Spooner was between Jay Pandolfo and Jordan Caron. Spooner’s line played more of a fourth-line role. All three forwards played less than 10 minutes.
It was up to Campbell’s unit to assume third-line responsibilities. Campbell led the charge with 15:33 of ice time, and assisted on the tying goal.
The Bruins were down, 1-0, after Kaspars Daugavins beat Khudobin with a long-distance shot at 4:55 of the second. But the Bruins tied the game after some stout work in the neutral zone. Johnny Boychuk stood up Daniel Alfredsson to stave off a rush.
Campbell hopped on the loose puck and gave it to Boychuk. Once Boychuk settled the puck, Paille sprinted up the ice. Paille steered wide on Sergei Gonchar and snapped a riser past Lehner’s glove at 18:38.
“We can live with a couple losses if we outbattle the teams and we show we have that effort,” Paille said. “But we didn’t see that those past games. Our motto is that we don’t want to lose two in a row. We did. To lose three in a row, we obviously didn’t want that. It was good to see the effort tonight for most of the game.”Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.