Bruins hit, but they lack scoring punch
NEW YORK - The Bruins are in a tough place right now and they could be there for some time, unless their shooters create better looks at the net, their scorers reclaim their touch, or opposition netminders get uncharacteristically charitable during the holiday season and hand the Black-and-Gold gift-wrapped goals with festive ribbons on top.
Otherwise, the quietest place in Bruins hockey these days is that 24-square-foot abyss, neatly trimmed by three red pipes, and seemingly fronted by a thick plate of impenetrable glass.
“We’ve got some guys in our lineup who score goals,’’ Boston coach Claude Julien said following yesterday’s 1-0 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. “They’re just not doing it right now.’’
Michael Ryder isn’t doing it. Nor is David Krejci . . . Marco Sturm . . . Mark Recchi . . . Zdeno Chara . . . Dennis Wideman. Pick a name on the roster. They’ve got game. They just don’t have any answers, or even a clue, around the net.
With key forwards Marc Savard and Milan Lucic expected to be sidelined by injury for the remainder of this month (it just feels like infinity and beyond), the Bruins now must rely on stout defense and airtight netminding to carry the day. And if they commit the slightest indiscretion, such as giving up Marian Gaborik’s fluttering shot to the top right corner with 4:09 remaining in the second period, all they have to show for their 60 minutes of hard work is another one-goal loss - and yesterday’s was their fourth such edging in 20 days.
“It’s disappointing we keep losing games like this,’’ said Boston captain Chara, who again led a fierce, spirited hitting game, matching New York’s Ryan Callahan with a game-high five smacks. “We have to stay positive, keep going, and we know it would be better if we were winning these one-goal games and not losing them. But like I say, stay positive . . . it could change any game.’’
Like many NHL squads, the Bruins are full of dash but are virtually without scoring panache. They dart up and down the ice, and to their credit, they are doing a much better job these days on transition, especially when moving the puck out of their zone. Once over the offensive blue line, however, they don’t have the personnel to hold the puck and wait for fellow forwards to spring free, find a hole, establish net presence, put pucks . . . in . . . the . . . net. They have turned the offensive end into a fast food “Drive Thru’’ and the meal at the pickup window is nothing but a bag full of empty calories.
“We went into the game knowing how difficult it is to play against them,’’ said Rangers coach and Bay State boy John Tortorella. “We almost tried to dumb it down a little bit and simply play up the wall and grind with them. They force you to play that way, so we said, ‘Let’s join in and maybe it will cure some of our problems.’ ’’
Ultimately, the curative tonic was Gaborik’s slightly-muffed shot, from 20 feet out in the slot, released on a one-timer from Vinny Prospal’s adroit feed from near the left wing wall. The shot floated through a screen in front of Tim Thomas and nestled to the top right corner, beating the near-perfect Thomas (22 saves) high to the glove side.
“Everyone in front was trying to play good defense,’’ said Thomas, whose personal record fell to 4-5-0 after last year’s mark of 36-11-7. “I didn’t pick the shot up until late, maybe when it was 8 feet out. It just kind of fluttered. If that’s a straight shot, I bet [Blake] Wheeler stops it, but . . .’’
From Thomas’s viewpoint, his team did a lot of good things, as did the Rangers.
“Both defenses were very good,’’ he said. “Can you think of an odd-man rush out there today? I can’t. It came down to both teams going for shots and tips . . . both sides were negated to that. Our defensive effort is good. Our offensive effort is good, too . . . it’s just not happening.’’
Even on the power play, the Boston offense is one hand clapping. The Bruins went 0 for 5 on the alleged man-advantage and they’ve now been blanked in six of their last seven games. They desperately miss Savard’s puckhandling wizardry and Lucic’s big body on the power play.
Overall, the losses of Savard and Lucic are accentuated by the fact that Phil Kessel, he of a team-high 36 goals last season, was dealt to Toronto in September, the Bruins unwilling to pay him the ransom ($27 million over five years) he was able to wring out of the goal-starved Leafs. Would a healthy Kessel help Boston’s disadvantaged man-advantage? Possibly. But Savard wouldn’t be here to dish him the puck, and Patrice Bergeron and Krejci are struggling mightily to make anything happen with the rest of the cast. Kessel is fast, but he can’t pass to himself.
“We’ve been pushing and sticking to our system,’’ said backliner Derek Morris. “But we have to find a way to score some goals.’’