Bit of a slip on ice by Bruins
Late goal allowed almost cost point
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara always sees the game from a slightly different perspective, standing nearly 7 feet tall when he laces up his oversize skates. But it wasn’t those extra inches that gave Chara reason for pause following Boston’s 4-3 shootout win over the Senators Saturday night at the Garden.
Chara focused instead on the final minute of regulation, while the Bruins still had a 3-2 lead and, more to the point, had the puck in Ottawa’s end with Senators goalie Brian Elliott sitting on the bench. This was the Original 30 at its best, the land of wide-open nets and boundless opportunities. The sellout crowd of 17,565 stood ready to celebrate the all-but-certain tap of the puck into the open net that would clinch Boston’s 13th win of the season.
“We had to bear down in that situation,’’ mused Chara, miffed that the clinching shot never came with the Bruins controlling the puck in the offensive end for valuable seconds. “It could have put the knife in their back. If you don’t, that’s what happens - they score at the end to tie the game. Eventually, we got the win in the shootout, but it’s totally unnecessary . . . we have to put the puck in the net.’’
Thus far in the 2009-10 season, the Bruins have mastered the art of finding the hardest way out, turning prime opportunities into least effective results. The most glaring example has been their work on the power play, which improved dramatically Saturday night, resulting in three strikes on the man-advantage that erased a 2-0 deficit and should have been enough to dispatch the Senators in regulation. Note: that’s 60 minutes, for those who might have forgotten amid the blizzard of recent overtimes and shootouts.
The OT Saturday night was Boston’s fifth in the last six games. The Bruins now have been stretched to OT in 11 of their 26 games, and nine of those 11 have gone to the shootout, where Boston has won five times. Michael Ryder, who canned one of the three power-play strikes, sniped in the shootout winner after Patrice Bergeron, Blake Wheeler, and David Krejci all were turned away by Elliott.
“For sure, we will take the win,’’ said Chara. “That is what counts in the end, two points. This game never gets boring. You have to learn from losses and even wins, and I am sure we will learn from this, too.’’
The lesson on Ottawa’s tying goal with 19.3 seconds remaining in regulation came in the form of a mental blip. Some six seconds earlier, after calling a timeout, the Senators won a faceoff on a set play that led to an Alexandre Picard pass to an isolated Milan Michalek on the left wing. The crafty Michalek, already with one goal and one assist on the night, swooped down the wing unimpeded and cashed in on a soft goal that he snapped between Tim Thomas’s pads. Michalek was a few feet off the net and almost on the goal line - a bad angle - when releasing the puck.
Thomas should have turned it back, and he willingly shouldered the blame for allowing it to squeeze between his pads, but Michalek was granted a first-class ticket to his doorstep by the likes of Marco Sturm, Bergeron, Derek Morris, Ryder, and Chara. It was as much about a lack of team-wide focus as it was Thomas’s faux pas. Again, a lost opportunity, the equal of not closing the deal seconds earlier with Elliott yanked for the extra attacker.
Tighter, more efficient games are the mantra of every team, but they are especially important for a club like the Bruins that has been so challenged to score this season. Stripping away shootout goals, the Bruins have been outscored, 60-59, through 26 games.
Up until Saturday night, they had scored only 12 times on the power play, 27th in the league. The three-spot against the Senators bumped them to 25th, with a 16.5 percent overall success rate. They are now 6-1-1 in games when they score power-play goals, 7-7-4 otherwise.
“The one thing that I really noticed,’’ said coach Claude Julien, whose club ranked fourth overall on the man-advantage last season and finished second to Detroit in total goal-scoring, “was that our power play was getting the puck on our sticks and then we were looking to make a play, instead of knowing what we had to do before we got the puck. We need to be a little more assertive.
“We had to pick certain plays and create those plays and turn them into scoring opportunities.’’
The first of those opportunities the Bruins connected on Saturday night had Krejci zipping down the slot with a Mark Recchi feed from left wing and finishing with a nifty backhander at the left post. Ryder, after trading passes with Chara, curled toward the slot from the left circle and connected on a laser wrist shot. Dennis Wideman, without a goal since a slapdown of the Canes in Game No. 2 of the season, delivered on a high-slot wrister from just inside the blue line.
Julien is correct in that his club needs to be more assertive on offense, no matter the manpower levels of the sides. His shooters also have to be more accurate. Saturday night 26 of Boston’s 59 shots never made it to the net, meaning 44 percent of the chances were blocked or otherwise misfired.
“Approach every game as a must-win,’’ said Chara, noting the critical need for focus in all areas of the game, “and really establish ourselves. Not let up, but challenge ourselves more to play even better.’’
Without a game until Wednesday (a visit by the Lightning), Julien gave his charges a day off, their second bye in four days as a reward for a 5-0-1 stretch. Key today, when practice resumes in Wilmington, will be the status of Bergeron, who was hobbled badly at about 7:15 of the first period Saturday night when he first slipped while killing a penalty and then got nailed by a Filip Kuba slapper.
Bergeron required attention in the dressing room until the final minute of the period, then returned to play effectively.
“He didn’t roll his ankle or anything,’’ said Julien, who last week lost Milan Lucic for another month when the big winger suffered a high ankle sprain. “It was the result of the shot. He left and he came back. He feels fine and hopefully that is the end of it.’’
The Bruins signed assistant coaches Doug Houda, Craig Ramsay, and Geoff Ward, goaltending coach Bob Essensa, and video coach Brant Berglund to multiyear contract extensions.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.