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Once-potent offense has gone to the dogs

While challenged by the Canadiens’ Tomas Plekanec, Bruin Blake Wheeler attempts to control the puck despite being airborne. While challenged by the Canadiens’ Tomas Plekanec, Bruin Blake Wheeler attempts to control the puck despite being airborne. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff
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By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / November 6, 2009

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Boy, the dogs days of the NHL season arrived early, didn’t they? Only some five weeks into the 2009-10 calendar, the Bruins can’t buy a goal, can’t win a game, can barely keep in the running with the also-rans in the Eastern Conference.

And to think, we’re still three weeks and a boatload of Rolaids from Thanksgiving.

“It’s kind of a broken record; we are saying the same thing night in, night out,’’ said sophomore winger Blake Wheeler, one of 11 Boston forwards who didn’t pick up a point in last night’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Canadiens on Causeway Street. “All of a sudden, it’s nine periods and no goals. We have to take that to heart. We have to take it personally.’’

What they need to do is score, and soon, figure out how to put that small chunk of rubber (3 inches in diameter, 1 inch thick) into the 24-square-foot opening that these days looks about the size of a teacup to Boston shooters. Had Patrice Bergeron not finally knocked one home with 51.7 seconds to go in regulation, and with Tim Thomas out of net for an extra attacker (liberal use of the term), we’d be talking about three straight shutouts for the Black and Gold for the first time since Feb. 2, 5, and 9 of 1929.

Let us not forget that 1928-29 season was the last one in which the league prohibited forward passing in the offensive zone. Such dalliances with the history book aren’t the kind of sentimental journeys that play well on the Jumbotron.

Three games. One goal. This is the kind of inaction that makes most Americans bellyache about soccer, and frankly, the futility of it all is only magnified in hockey, a sport in which at least a handful of goals is considered sort of the baseline.

The Bruins keep saying they are engaged, their effort is at an optimum, and any day now their goal-scoring geyser will begin to blow.

Nonetheless, their recent mini-tour through the Original Six netted a 1-nil loss to the Rangers, a 2-nil loss to the Red Wings, and last night’s edging by the Habs, a club they manhandled in a four-game playoff sweep last April by a collective score of 17-6.

Could their fortunes change? Sure. But it’s not likely with this bunch, even if last night’s box score shows that they landed 43 shots on Carey Price. We all know there are shots and then there are shots, and the Bruins have far too many of the variety that don’t have them bearing down around the net, causing havoc, making tips, trying deflections, picking up rebounds. They look as if they suffer from battle fatigue, but never really, truly, honestly engaged in the fight.

“Forty-six [sic] shots on net,’’ mused coach Claude Julien, who says he’ll stick behind his embattled group. “It boils down to our inability to finish around the net.’’

Hand in hand with that finish, of course, is the need for a different approach around the net. Milan Lucic might provide that, but he’s likely out all of this month while his surgically-repaired finger heals. Marc Savard might provide it, but the fractured bone in his foot also has him out for another 3-4 weeks.

Some of that Lucic muscle and Savard touch - two things severely lacking among the current group of 12 forwards - could go a long way in lifting the flatline that currently measures the club’s scoring confidence. A healthy, fully-energized David Krejci (out with the flu) also would be a key asset.

“We have to be patient,’’ said general manager Peter Chiarelli, when asked if he were considering a trade as a means of changing the funk prior to last night’s game. “We’ve got two key contributors missing and you don’t want to mess with things too much. The last 4-6 games, our overall effort and defensive execution have been excellent, and I know we are better than a team that has scored, what, five goals in four games? It will turn.’’

Chiarelli doesn’t believe it’s a talent issue. He looks at a lineup that still includes Marco Sturm, Michael Ryder, and Bergeron and figures they’ve scored in the past, they’ll score again.

“Do we miss [Phil] Kessel? Yes,’’ he said, noting Kessel’s debut the other night with his new club, Toronto. “But he wouldn’t have been available to us until now. And like I say, we get chances. In Detroit, we had chances to score and we didn’t, then the whole momentum of the game changes. I just believe we have to be patient.’’

Kessel’s speed would assuredly help, but the biggest missing links are poise and presence in the attacking zone. That takes a blend of strength and will and touch. About the only time they’ve demonstrated that of late has been when Zdeno Chara moves to a forward line, where he was last night, fending off two Montreal defenders on Price’s doorstep as Bergeron potted a Derek Morris rebound with the Bruins skating six-on-five.

These are desperate times and Julien might find himself desperate enough to use Big Z more up front during routine power plays, which have been routinely awful the last two weeks.

“It is something that we have always had in the back of our minds,’’ said Julien. “The thing is, we have to get shots through. If he is [up front] but shots are not getting through, it’s not much better either. It is not something that you won’t see, but it’s not something right now that we’ve decided to do.’’

For now, status quo, and a goal here, but rarely a second one there. Dog days. With no easy way out.

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

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