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Hoping to avoid plunge

Bruin Bobby Allen is a hit with Chris Neil, who sends him flying in front of the Ottawa bench. Bruin Bobby Allen is a hit with Chris Neil, who sends him flying in front of the Ottawa bench. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
Email|Print| Text size + By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / December 19, 2007

It was right around this time last season when the Bruins, feeling generally OK about the way things shaped up through the Christmas break, soon found themselves in a dizzying tailspin that sent them teetering, then tottering, and eventually plotzing right out of the playoff picture.

Well, if you've just joined the party, it looks like it's happening again - Groundhog Day, of the Black-and-Gold genus, 2007-08.

Last night's 3-2 loss to the mighty Senators, strictly from a scoreboard standpoint, wasn't all that bad. Losing by a goal to one of the top two or three teams in the Original 30 is respectable. However, despite the math, the Bruins looked worse than that one-goal differential, and it continued a streak of Causeway Street stinkeroos that began with a 3-1 loss to the Devils Thursday and included Saturday night's humdrum 2-0 win over the Blue Jackets.

The postgame reality check belonged to one Claude Julien, this year's coach (also the third in three years), who had the intelligence, sense, immediacy, and fortitude to note the slip in quality control.

As the night wore on, noted Julien, his team became "sloppy" and "lost focus." He felt his team didn't have the "attitude" necessary to win.

"We are slipping a little bit," said Julien. "We have to get them on track. It's the truth. It's the facts, and we don't hide behind those things."

Even more to the point, Julien, when talking about his squad's failed power play (0 for 4), admitted, "Our best players have to be our best players, and clearly tonight, they weren't - and that took away our chance of winning."

In Julien's world, there is no candy-coating the rotten apple. And again, that's a very good thing.

Let us not forget that the Dave Lewis Bruins entered the Christmas break last year with an 18-13-0-2 record. As of this morning, Julien's Bruins are an eerily similar 18-12-2-1, and are now 1-2-0 in a homestand that will bring the Penguins here tomorrow night, followed by the Blues for a Saturday matinee.

If this were Oz, someone would be telling Auntie Em the silo just collapsed, the pigs hightailed down the road, and sonofagun, the barn roof with the spoked-B logo just flew over the lower forty.

Remember, it was right out of the Christmas break last season when 2006-07 miserably dissolved, and at warp speed. After an overtime loss in Chicago and then a win in Columbus, the Bruins went into Nashville Dec. 30 and got shellacked, 5-0.

Viewers that night back in the Hub of Hockey were amazed to hear Lewis tell NESN's Rob Simpson he felt it was one of his squad's best showings of the season. Poor Simpson was speechless. The stink was penetrating NESN's HD feed, into homes all over New England, and the coach told everyone it was perfume. Brutal. The Bruins won only three of their next 14, and the season was toast.

Julien, unless he gets the concussed Patrice Bergeron back much sooner than expected, may not be able to make much more than chicken salad out of the remaining 49 games. The back end needs one or two defensemen who can better handle the puck and help trigger the offense. The forward lines, which have yet to show the dogged forechecking Julien hoped to implement, are chock full of dead spots, especially at the wings.

In six of their last 10 games, the Bruins have finished with either one or two goals. Most nights, it takes at least three goals to win in the NHL. Predictably, they've gone 2-4-0 in those one- and two-goal games.

"It's not just the offense," said captain Zdeno Chara. "We win as a team, we lose as a team. We need to create more. We are better than that, and we know it."

"I don't know," added top pivot Marc Savard, who is the litmus test of all things offense in the Boston lineup, "but it felt like we were getting to the net - but maybe we're not."

Later, Savard added, "I have to get more chances, and we have to find a way from within - we have to start scoring."

And that's not next week, or the week after. It's now. Or a couple of bad weeks will cause them to fall from the second spot in the Eastern Conference to their all-too-familiar digs among the DNQs in spots 9-15.

Julien said Saturday he didn't feel the need to rearrange his lines, but that soon could change, perhaps as early as today's workout in Wilmington. Midway through the third period, down by a pair of goals, he did move Petteri Nokelainen into Glen Metropolit's second-line spot with wingers Marco Sturm and Chuck Kobasew. Perhaps that portends more change.

If Julien were to cobble a couple of lines out of his top six forwards, right now they would be Savard, Metropolit, Milan Lucic, Vladimir Sobotka, Nokelainen, and maybe Jeremy Reich. The rest of the pack, especially the high-priced Glen Murray, Peter Schaefer, and Sturm, need wake-up calls. They are front and center among the best players who have been something far less, and it's disturbing.

What we know is that Julien senses the moment. Now we find out if he can do anything about it, if his players sense the same.

"It's a responsibility you give your best players," said Julien, "and you hope they can make a difference."

Loosely, that translates to "carpe diem." Either his players seize the day, or they'll see the 2006-07 season replay before their sorry eyes.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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