All the signs point to Bruins needing a victory
WILMINGTON - It could very well be that by today’s end, the Bruins will have fallen out of the Eastern Conference’s top eight.
The Senators enter TD Garden riding a five-game winning streak, including a 5-1 road victory Monday over the Bruins. The Flyers (53 points), a point behind the Bruins and Islanders in ninth place, host the Hurricanes, the league’s worst team. The Islanders play New Jersey at Nassau Coliseum.
All of that is just white noise to Claude Julien.
“We’ve got to give those guys credit,’’ the Bruins coach said of his players. “They’re not idiots. They can see the standings. They know what’s going on. Do you have to shove it down their throats, or just let them sort those kinds of things out? They know where we are. We know where we are. It’s just a matter of going out there and playing the game.
“I’ve always said that the big picture can be scary. Think of the little picture. The little picture is that we want to win the game [today]. Let’s not overanalyze anything else.’’
So far, 2009-10 has been a puzzling season for a team that ran the regular-season table last year. When the Bruins started the season with a healthy lineup, they played their worst hockey - a lazy and indifferent brand that prompted general manager Peter Chiarelli to ship Chuck Kobasew to Minnesota and import Daniel Paille from Buffalo.
When the worst flurry of their injuries struck (top three centers Patrice Bergeron, Marc Savard, and David Krejci, along with defensemen Andrew Ference and Mark Stuart, were all unavailable against San Jose Jan. 14), the shorthanded Bruins respond ed with an emotional 2-1 shootout win over one of the NHL’s elite clubs.
Most recently, when they should have buried a misfiring Columbus team at home Thursday, the Bruins failed to convert their chances, retreated into a shell once the Blue Jackets tied the score, and handed away 2 points with less than two minutes remaining in regulation - albeit with some help from a phantom high-sticking call on Milan Lucic.
And now it has come down to the following: a need to beat Ottawa today, not just to stay afloat in the East, but to inject some smiles and swagger into a mentally fractured club.
“This is a game where confidence plays a big role,’’ Julien said, referring to Thursday’s 3-2 setback.
“We were a confident team after two periods. We were playing well. We had lots of chances. It could have easily been more than a 2-1 hockey game. When you don’t capitalize on some of those excellent chances, they tie it up. All of a sudden, you tighten up. Why do you tighten up? Because you don’t have the confidence you would if you’d been having success. When you do, you say, ‘Let’s bounce back. Let’s get the next one.’ That’s what it is.’’
Like the Bruins, the Senators have had significant injuries. No. 1 center Jason Spezza (knee) has sat out 20 games, although he is close to returning. Captain Daniel Alfredsson (shoulder) was lost for 11 games. Speedy winger Milan Michalek (concussion) missed seven games, including Monday’s game. Pascal Leclaire (concussion), once projected to be the No. 1 goalie, will sit out his sixth game today.
But Ottawa has reeled off five straight wins and could stretch their lead to 6 points over the Bruins with another victory.
“They’re playing with lots of confidence right now,’’ Julien said. “They’re hitting on all cylinders. When a team has lots of confidence, that’s what happens. That’s why they’ve won five in a row.’’
The Bruins are in the middle of a nine-game stretch in which compiling points is a must. Of the nine games, seven are at home. They have a four-day break next week between games at Carolina and Buffalo, a pause that could give Savard’s injured knee more time to heal (the center practiced with teammates yesterday for the first time since suffering the injury Jan. 7). So far, the Bruins have lost two home games to kick off this stretch.
“I see guys squeezing their sticks,’’ Chiarelli said. “The games are of extreme importance because the race is so tight. But when you’re trying to regain confidence, you have to be loose. You can’t be tight.’’
After this nine-game run, the Bruins play four straight on the road prior to the Olympic break. Upon their return, seven of the first nine games in March will be away from the Garden.
“We’ve got to win,’’ said Shawn Thornton. “We’ve got to start winning. We’re slipping. We’re past the halfway mark of the season. We have to start winning.’’
Marco Sturm (leg), Steve Begin (undisclosed), and Byron Bitz (undisclosed) will not play today. This will be Sturm’s fourth straight game off the ice. Begin and Bitz were injured last Saturday against Los Angeles. Julien didn’t know whether any of the three would be available tomorrow against Carolina . . . Chiarelli said that making a trade prior to the Olympic break would be ideal to give any acquisitions more time to transition to their new club. But he didn’t make it sound as if any deals were imminent . . . Savard said he felt good during practice, but there’s been no talk with the coaching staff about when he might return. Savard is targeting Friday in Buffalo as a possible date . . . The Bruins will wear their Winter Classic jerseys today.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.